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Georgia, US sign strategic accord

Agence France-Presse | 10 January 2008

Georgia, US sign strategic accord

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States and Georgia signed an accord here Friday to bolster defense, trade and energy ties in a new sign of US support for Georgia after its brief war with Russia in August.

The deal shows the way for Washington and Tbilisi to boost "cooperation in defense, trade, energy security" and strengthen Georgia’s budding democratic institutions, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a signing ceremony.

The Charter on Strategic Partnership amounts to what US officials say is a declaration of intent by President George W. Bush’s departing team to deepen US-Georgian cooperation without committing his successor, Barack Obama.

The accord, similar to a strategic agreement Washington signed last month with Ukraine, risks raising tensions with Russia, which is concerned about Western encroachment on former Soviet territory.

Before signing the document with her Georgian counterpart Grigol Vashadze, Rice renewed US support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in an allusion to its war with Russia in August over breakaway regions of Georgia.

She also reiterated strong US support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to eventually admit Georgia as a member.

NATO ministers agreed last month to boost ties with both Georgia and Ukraine, but without granting them the status of official candidates to join the alliance.

Vashadze said the signing marked "a historic day" for Georgia.

"This is the stepping stone which will bring Georgia to Euro-Atlantic structures, to membership within NATO, and to return to family of Western and civilized nations," he said.

The document "brings not only rights, but also obligations to Georgia to be responsible ally, to be democratic, open and liberal society," Vashadze said.

The United States and Georgia "intend to pursue a structured plan" to train and equip Georgian forces to boost their capabilities to eventually operate with NATO troops, according to a copy obtained by AFP.

Both nations intend to "expand the scope of their ongoing defense and security programs" in order to boost peace and stability.

On the economic front, the two countries intend to pursue an Enhanced Bilateral Investment Treaty and to explore the possibility of a free-trade agreement.

The deal also seeks to promote energy security after the United States said Monday that Russia’s move to cut gas to Ukraine, hitting supplies in Europe, a "show of force" by Moscow aimed at demonstrating control over its neighbors.

"The United States and Georgia intend to explore opportunities for increasing Georgia’s energy production, enhance energy efficiency and increase the physical security of energy transit through Georgia to European markets," the document said.

They intend to "develop a new southern corridor to help Georgia and the rest of Europe diversify their supplies of natural gas by securing imports from Azerbaijan and Central Asia."

 source: AFP