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Archil Gegeshidze- We must do all in our power so that US support for Georgia increases more
18:12 22-02-2013
Archil Gegeshidze- We must do all in our power so that US support for Georgia increases more

Archil Gegeshidze- We must do all in our power so that US support for Georgia increases more


“InterPressNews” interviewed Archil Gegeshidze, the new ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Georgia to the USA

Mister Archil, congratulations on your approval as the ambassador to the USA, and we wish you every success in the diplomatic arena. Before talking about issues concerning the relations between Tbilisi and Washington, I want to ask you - what was the reason for appointing you the ambassador to the United States? To what extent was it related to the fact that you and your predecessor, Mr. Iakobashvili, who had left his post voluntarily, worked in the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies…

-This choice was made in October last year. However, it happened regardless of me. The fact that my name was called in the relevant circles, I learned of it post factum. Then I received a formal proposal from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and after some consultation I agreed. As to whether it had something to do with my relationship with Temur Iakobashvili, it was not so. It’s really a coincidence that my predecessor and I represent the same NGO, the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. 10-11 years ago, we, together with other colleagues were involved in the creation of this foundation. The very fact that I and Mr. Temur were presented to this office by the regimes, opposing to each other, is interesting and suggests the possibility of cohabitation of different opinions within our organization. This shows the strength of our organization and it’s a part of its identity. Therefore, the foundation holds a unique place and role in the space of the civil society. It is no mere chance that in one of the most prestigious international rating systems of think tanks the foundation took the 19th place.

The previous government had very good relations with both the Democratic and Republican administrations of the USA. In any case, that’s how it was seen. With the new government in Georgia what news is expected in the US-Georgia relations under the Strategic Partnership Charter between the USA and Georgia? Despite the activity of Republican Congressmen, the USA has yet to make a decision on supplying Georgia with defensive weapons. Are you going to step up efforts in this direction?

-I inherited a wide range of friends of Georgia, both among Republicans and Democrats, the non-governmental, scientific and academic circles. In general, the Embassy of Georgia is well-known in the USA, and this provides me with the best starting positions. It is a positive fact, which will come in handy for me to take care of the subsequent deepening of relations between the USA and Georgia. In particular, I am referring to the transition from the stage of the dialogue beginning under the “Strategic Partnership Charter” to the development of specific projects and programs. As for other news, at this stage it is difficult to talk about specific plans on this issue. Before going to Washington I’m going to visit the government agencies and to familiarize myself with priorities in different directions, the current and future projects. Upon arrival in Washington, I'll know more precisely how and what exactly to do. In general, there is always a reserve and resource to improve the efficiency of the Embassy. Perhaps, it will be about to focus on this direction, improving the style and forms of work. All this should bring results - Georgia should further strengthen its security. In this regard, there is an inexhaustible resource. That is my vision for the immediate tasks. I want to say - I'm going and I firmly believe that my work should be apolitical; I do not have to adjust it for partisan interests. I'm going to be guided by the priorities emerging from the national interests of this country, and I hope that all my partners in the Georgian government will be guided by the same principles when we will work in coordination with each other. As for the cooperation with the USA in the area of ​​defense, of course, it is one of the most important priorities for Georgia, strengthening the defense of Georgia is an important component of this country's security, and this trend will take a serious place in the activities of the embassy.

After the meeting between Saakashvili and Obama, the U.S. President promised us to make a decision on free trade, but in this respect little has been done. The prospect of free trade between the two countries is so obscure because the Georgian side is well aware of what the EU demands from Georgia on the free trade agreement, but we still do not know about the requirements of the American side on this issue. President Obama, speaking to the U.S. Congress on matters of foreign policy, called the issue of free trade between Europe and the U.S. as first-priority; how realistic is it to think that in the near future it will be possible to reach an agreement on free trade between Georgia and the U.S.?

-Generally, when dealing with fundamental issues and purposes, I do not like to give exact dates. This applies both to the entry into NATO and the EU integration. This also applies to deepening relations on free trade with the United States and the implementation of many other important issues. At this stage, the U.S. side suggested that in principle they can start a dialogue on free trade with Georgia. Now our task is to try to contribute to this process of the beginning of a dialogue from the U.S. side. I will note that the beginning of the dialogue does not mean that the process will be completed quickly. You are right that the U.S. and the EU are now starting a dialogue on trade relations of a high level and they determine what regulations need to be taken concerning this in the future. In such circumstances, a dialogue on free trade between the U.S. and Georgia, presumably, should be considered in the context of the great dialogue between the EU and the U.S. It is difficult to say what effect this process will have on Georgia's plans concerning free trade with the U.S. We will work to ensure that the U.S. has a desire and willingness to begin this process under the appropriate political situation. As I noted, the context is very broad, there are many external factors, and it is difficult to fix any dates on this issue. In this regard, it is encouraging that the new Secretary of State, John Kerry in the recent past, when he was a senator, has actively supported the beginning of the dialogue on free trade between the U.S. and Georgia. From this point of view, it can be considered as a reassuring factor. One should hope that he will spare no efforts to solve this issue positively.

Recently, President Obama spoke to Congress and talked about the foreign policy priorities of the United States. Some observers believe that the current U.S. administration indirectly refuses to play first fiddle among the leading countries of the world. It is not going to give up the use of force against terrorists anywhere in the world, but its foreign policy priorities do not look as ambitious as before. The first outlines of this policy of the U.S. were seen in the statements Obama made ​​in last year in Prague and Istanbul. How will today’s foreign policy priorities of the White House affect the US-Russian relations and the U.S. attitude to the post-Soviet space, and how will it impact on the Georgian-Russian relations?

-Indeed, observers have noted that the U.S. president paid more attention to domestic issues than to the foreign policy during his Congress speech. He paid more attention to the foreign policy during his first term in office. In my view, the President's speech to Congress should not mean that such a country as the U.S. will allow the weakening of its foreign policy accents in the post-soviet space in such a way that it has a negative impact on our relations with the United States, or on relations between Russia and the U.S. so that it hurts the Georgian-Russian dead-end relations. I think that the shift of the accents in the foreign policy priorities will not change the quality and intensity of U.S. support for Georgia. From our side, we must do all in our power to increase US support for Georgia.

Can one hope that the US position on the issues of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will stay the same as before? And, in your opinion, what position will the White House have on the beginning of the dialogue between Russia and Georgia, and how realistic is it that Georgia will become a source of cooperation rather than confrontation between the U.S. and Russia?

-I think that one should hope for it. One should not wait for change in the U.S. position concerning these regions. The U.S. will retain its position on these issues, which means that it will remain unacceptable to Washington the actual situation in Georgia after the August 2008 war, the Kremlin’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the presence of the Russian military bases on these territories. The U.S. will continue to require the implementation of the six-point agreement of 12 August 2008. As for the recently launched Georgian-Russian dialogue, Washington clearly supports it. In general, since the 90-s the Americans, like Europeans, have always called on us, as far as it was depended on us, if not fundamentally, then partly to improve relations with Russia. Our Western partners have always pointed out us that it’s in the interest of Georgia not to be a part of contention between Russia and the West, but a part of cooperation and agreed agenda. While we have no firm guarantees of physical security such as NATO membership, for the Georgian side it will be useful when both parties will consistently care for the safety and welfare of Georgia. Western partners have always preferred Georgia to take such a place in the relations between them and Russia. Unfortunately, it did not always work, and when in 2008 the situation became extremely acute, it contained a serious discomfort to them. Everyone knows that the situation created after the 2008 war is an issue about which the U.S. and Russia cannot come to an agreement. But under the famous "reset policy", they agreed that the disagreement on this issue will not prevent their cooperation in other areas. There are a lot of such issues - starting from global warming and ending with the Afghanistan and cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Georgia may not be capable of doing much to stop being the subject of conflict and become the object of cooperation, but what depends on it should be made to ensure promoting the cooperation between the U.S. and Russia proceeding from our national interests. If Georgia is able to perform such a role and not to deviate from the "red lines", one can assume that there will be created a real basis for the implementation of our long-term, strategic and national interests. Georgia can play in this case only a modest role, as many things don’t depend on us, but all that depends on us should be done. I think the new feature of Mr. Zurab Abashidze, which involves overcoming the deadlock in Georgian-Russian relations, is a specific step in this direction.

Republican congressmen asked the new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to use all resources to improve the situation in Georgia. We have little doubt that the activity by Republican Congressmen has been initiated by the "National Movement", but what is surprising is that why American Republicans do not understand that, guided by the interests of the party of the former government, they cause irritation against the United States in this society? And yet, one can often hear the claim that several lobbying firms in the USA work for president Saakashvili and “National Movement”, creating negative public opinion about the new Georgian authorities in the US political circles. How is the new Georgian Ambassador going to act to change the attitude of the U.S. political circles to the new Georgian government?

-I agree that the attitude of some members of Congress and the media to the process in Georgia is often perceived as biased in relation to the former authorities. At the same time, we should also mention that they are true friends of Georgia; they genuinely want the best for this country and want to help Georgia. But to help, it’s necessary to have real and complete information on the events in this country. Despite the fact that, for this, they have their own sources, we cannot rule out the fact that during the election period, which was marked by a brutal and ruthless struggle against the government opponents, the U.S. Embassy in Georgia, the more lobbyists, who were supposed to serve the national interests of Georgia and not a political force, failed to maintain political neutrality. According to the released information, as part of targeted propaganda, the Washington and European establishment received messages, the essence of which is as follows - "Georgian Dream" is a Russian project, the force with suspicious priorities, which in the case of coming to power, will turn from the Western course. As it can be seen, it brought its results. Since some of our partners in Congress and the media don’t know the new authorities, they are easily submitted to the influence of the said propaganda. Therefore the following question easily arises: isn’t the new government of Georgia retrograde, undemocratic and potentially anti-western? I still think that the above-mentioned appeal of U.S. congressmen is a relic of stereotypes left over from our election campaign. I mentioned the legacy and noted that a lot of things had already been done. But on the other hand, it is a hard legacy because it takes most of the time and energy changing unreal image of the new authorities. Otherwise it will be difficult to carry out the above-mentioned tasks aimed at the subsequent deepening of bilateral relations.

Ivanishvili’s visit to the U.S. was postponed several times for sufficiently well-reasoned reasons. According to your information, when might Ivanishvili’s visit to the U.S. take place? Can one assume that Ivanishvili’s visit to Washington will be held after the expiration of the presidential term of Saakashvili?

-In the new U.S. administration there is a redistribution of the personnel, it applies to the State Department too. Some of the individuals who worked on the Georgian direction were removed from this area, some moved from one department to another. One can say that the group of people that have to work over Georgia and then set the agenda of the relations, including the Prime Minister's visit to the United States, is being formed. It would be very nice if it happened to make the much talked-about cohabitation to be shown in a positive light to our partners. One should hope that the dialogue on the fundamental issues, which began between the former and the current government, will continue and there will be achieved some agreements. Real cohabitation would create a good background for the visit of the Prime Minister to the United States. It would be wrong to name any dates; it is largely dependent on the willingness of the American side.

Mister Archil, when will you get agrément from Washington? And yet, can we hope that the Georgian media will not encounter problems in accessing information from the Georgian embassy in Washington?

-If the agrément is not late, by the end of April, I will proceed to fulfilling my duties. I want to assure you that the information of your agency is one of the most reliable and timely. Therefore, I am your faithful reader. In general, the cooperation with the Georgian media, I think it is not only necessary, but also a duty. I promise that in this respect, I will not let you get bored.

Koba Bendeliani

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