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U.S. Confirms Negotiations With Georgia On Bilateral Charter

A U.S. naval vessel near the Georgian coast. The new charter would boost U.S. support for Georgian defense
The U.S. State Department has confirmed it is negotiating with Georgia on the text of a new bilateral charter that will bolster the two countries' partnership and deepen Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration.

In a statement on December 23, the State Department announced that the planned charter will outline enhanced cooperation to help Georgia improve its security and strengthen democratic and economic reforms.

The statement confirms comments by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who on December 22 welcomed the possibility of a U.S.-Georgian strategic partnership agreement. "America has said never before that Georgia is its strategic ally, in any statement or in any agreement,” Saakashvili said. “If now the word 'strategic' appears in our relations, this will be the most articulate answer to the aggression against Georgia. This will be the most articulate answer to permanent efforts to destroy Georgia and tear it to pieces."

Moscow sent troops into Georgia in August to repel what it said was a Georgian military attempt to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Russian forces later withdrew to positions within South Ossetia and another breakaway province, Abkhazia, which Moscow recognized as independent states.

Georgia's Rustavi-2 television reports that the U.S.-Georgia accord is expected to be signed by the end of the year.

Parallel Developments

The State Department said the charter will be similar to the one signed by the United States and Ukraine on December 19 in Washington.

Speaking at a signing ceremony in Washington with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Ukraine was a "very important partner for the United States, and a good friend."

"We have long believed that Ukraine's independence, its democracy, is essential to a Europe whole and free and at peace,” Rice said. “The Ukrainian people are a proud and a good people, and we are very proud, foreign secretary, to be your friends and to work with you. Today, we are going to put into a charter those sentiments."

The Charter on Strategic Partnership between Ukraine and the United States mentions broad areas of cooperation, including economic development and defense. It contains promises to enhance U.S. training and equipping of Ukraine's military through NATO.

The agreement also includes a statement by Ukraine welcoming the U.S. intention to open a new "diplomatic presence" on the Crimean peninsula, the Ukrainian region where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.

The United States also signed similar partnerships with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1998. The U.S.-Baltic Charter was seen as a key tool in moving the three countries toward membership in NATO, which they joined in 2004.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Georgian Service on December 23, David Darchiashvili, the chairman of Georgia's parliamentary committee for European integration, said the U.S.-Georgian treaty will play a similar role. "With this document, Georgian-American relations become even stronger and get the nature of a strategic partnership, which in turn will bolster the process of integration with NATO," Darchiashvili said.

Washington has maintained close ties with both Kyiv and Tbilisi amid mounting Kremlin resentment, and both countries have volunteered troops for the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq.

NATO has said it would deepen its cooperation with both Ukraine and Georgia, but has so far failed to offer the two countries Membership Action Plans, or MAPs -- a key step toward formal membership.

David Kakabadze, director of RFE/RL's Georgian Service, contributed to this report