Georgian opposition parties and independent journalists are hoping that the two-day visit to Tbilisi by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will result in greater pressure by Washington on the Georgian leadership to deliver on its repeated pledges of political reform. Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" on July 22 quoted Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as saying he will seek to persuade Biden that Georgia needs from the U.S. "defensive weapons," specifically antitank and antiaircraft systems, to deter any possible repeat incursion on to its territory by Russia.
On July 21, the Alliance for Georgia headed by former Georgian Ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania released an open letter
to Vice President Biden with the aim of starting "a dialogue on how America can continue to support democratic renewal in our country."
The open letter stresses the need for preterm democratic elections as a means of "giving the people the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction" with the present leadership through democratic means. U.S. As Facilitator?
At the same time, the letter stressed that any new elections are meaningless without substantive changes to the electoral law and the constitution, and expanded freedom of the media, changes that the alliance believes the U.S. can and should facilitate. Specifically, the letter calls for changes to the composition of the Central Election Commission and of the Board of Trustees of the Georgian Public Broadcaster. And it stresses the paramount importance of close international monitoring to ensure that the Georgian government refrains "from using its resources to assist its own election," and of "meaningful oversight over the police and security services...in light of continued politically motivated repressions."
The letter further calls for elevating to the status of benchmarks the relevant provisions of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Charter signed in early January, and for a specific time frame for implementing the required reforms. "This timeline should be agreed by all of the participants in the political process and the U.S. should commit to stand as guarantor of this agreement," the letter reads.
The charter affirms that "democracy is the chief basis" for political legitimacy, and by extension for stability in Georgia. It further underscores the need to bolster independent media, freedom of expression and access to objective information; to promote political pluralism; and to "strengthen the capacity of Georgian civil society to develop and analyze public policy,... participate in the legislative process, and provide oversight of public officials." Pressing Argument
President Saakashvili has repeatedly announced measures intended to promote such changes, most recently in his July 20 address to parliament
. But except for the creation of a 70-person commission to draft amendments to the constitution, none of his proposals has been implemented.
Also on July 21, five other opposition parties (the Conservative Party; the People's Party; Georgia's Way; the Democratic Movement-United Georgia; and the movement For A United Georgia) issued an appeal to the Georgian people to congregate in Tbilisi the following day to welcome Biden and to bring home to him the intensity of the population's desire for positive change. The statement is harshly critical of Saakashvili, whom it accuses of betraying both his own people and the ideals of the Rose Revolution of November 2003 that brought him to power; of moving toward authoritarianism; and of drawing his country into a war with Russia last summer.
Two independent television stations and nine newspapers have released a separate statement calling on Biden to insist during his talks with the Georgian leadership that they comply with the provisions of the Strategic Partnership Charter relating to freedom of the media. Specifically, they demand an end to pressure on journalists; greater transparency with regard to the ownership of television channels; and an investigation into police reprisals against journalists who sought to cover a standoff in mid-June between protesters and police outside the Interior Ministry headquarters in Tbilisi.
The Georgian authorities, for their part, may seek to focus primarily on security issues, in particular arms purchases and the possibility of U.S. observers augmenting the 246-person European Union Monitoring Mission deployed since October 2008 along Georgia's internal borders with the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria, Tbilisi has conducted "preliminary talks" with Washington on that possibility.
As for the acquisition of U.S. arms, the Strategic Partnership Charter affirms support Georgia's efforts "to provide for its legitimate security and defense needs," but does not clarify whether U.S. assistance in doing so will be restricted to advice and training for the Georgian armed forces.