Pompeo Visits Georgia, in Show of Support amid Russian Threat

POLITICS & POLICY
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C., October 21, 2020.
(Nicholas Kamm/Reuters)

The secretary of state noted the ‘pain and difficulty connected to the occupation,’ in meetings with officials.

TBILISI — In a demonstration of U.S. support for Georgia, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Wednesday morning with key figures in the country, including top government officials, the head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church, and representatives from civil-society groups.

Pompeo made a stop here during his post-election swing through Europe and the Middle East, showing America’s commitment to the security and democratic institutions of this key partner, following recent parliamentary elections that were beset by allegations of electoral improprieties.

The country is a longstanding U.S. security partner that has sent hundreds of troops to fight alongside NATO forces in Afghanistan. Russia has occupied two enclaves in Georgian territory — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — since it seized them in a 2008 invasion of the pro-West, post-Soviet state.

In meetings with Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili, prime minister Giorgi Gakharia, and foreign minister David Zalkaliani in Tbilisi, Pompeo reiterated America’s continued support for Georgia’s security and sovereignty in the face of the Russian threat, according to the State Department.

Tbilisi holds close ties to the EU. It also has ambitions to one day join NATO but has seen its membership drive effectively frozen by current political dynamics. President Trump and Vice President Pence have both reaffirmed in recent years that the country will one day join the alliance. The Trump administration has doubled down on America’s commitments to Georgia and was the first to approve the transfer of lethal defensive aid to Tbilisi since 2008.

Just before his meeting with Gakharia and Zalkaliani, Pompeo noted the “pain and difficulty connected to the occupation,” pledging “to do everything we can to support your democratic process, the building out of the institutions.”

In that meeting, and in a separate session with Zourabchivili, Pompeo also stressed the importance of conducting free, fair, and transparent elections, and maintaining an independent judiciary, according to the State Department’s summary.

This follows Georgia’s hotly contested parliamentary elections at the end of October. Supporters of the political opposition, led by former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s center-right United National Movement, say that the governing center-left Georgia Dream party is undermining democracy in the country, and they have taken to the streets in recent weeks to contest the results.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent observers to the country in the lead-up to the vote, concluded that although fundamental freedoms were respected, “pervasive allegations of pressure on voters and blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state reduced public confidence in some aspects of the process.”

The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi backed those findings, in a statement urging the “voters’ and parties’ use of the existing legal procedures for filing their complaints,” and also calling for the impartial and transparent resolution of those complaints.

Although Pompeo did not meet with opposition leaders, a senior colleague who traveled to Georgia with him will stay behind and encourage them to work within the system to bring about change instead of boycotting the existing process, a senior State Department official said.

Following a meeting with Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II, Pompeo concluded his time in the country at a closed-door roundtable meeting on judicial reform, in America’s latest move to bolster democracy in Georgia.

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