Young democracy looks forward

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In the midst of an election season, it can sometimes be easy to take democracy for granted. As someone who grew up in a young democracy, I know it must always be cherished. This year, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Georgia regaining its independence.  

Since 1991, we have achieved tremendous advances on our path to a more vibrant and open democracy. Through it all, the United States has remained our premier strategic ally, a strong supporter of our sovereignty and a source of inspiration. 

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As I prepare to make my first trip to Washington, D.C., next week as foreign minister, I am grateful for America’s long-standing support of Georgia’s security, democratic development and Euro-Atlantic integration.

The relationship between our two countries at all levels of government — from the administration to Congress — has never been stronger. I am confident that Reps. Ted PoeTed PoeOvernight Tech: Dem presses Facebook on gun sales | Praise for new librarian of Congress | Fourth Amendment Caucus to push privacy concerns Overnight Cybersecurity: Guccifer 2.0 releases more DNC docs; China hacked banking regulator Texas lawmaker announces leukemia diagnosis MORE (R-Texas) and Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyDems urge treaty ratification after South China Sea ruling Lawmakers back bill allowing transit benefits to apply to Uber Memorial Bridge, ports among projects slated to get transportation grants MORE’s (D-Va.) leadership of the Congressional Georgian Caucus will open a new chapter of even deeper cooperation. 

A top priority is forging even closer economic and security ties between our two countries. Cumulative U.S. investment in Georgia exceeds $2 billion. Today, we have a unique opportunity to leverage the strong foundation of our close political relationship to dramatically expand investment and bilateral trade. 

For our part, the Georgian government is working hard to raise awareness of economic opportunities in Georgia for U.S. firms, especially firms involved in agricultural production, logistics, manufacturing and hydropower generation. 

In a major new development, U.S.-based Conti International will lead an effort to build a new $2.5 billion deep-water port on the Black Sea that will further solidify Georgia’s position as a hub for trade between China and Europe along the revived Silk Road. 

The Georgia of today stands out in its region for many reasons: It is an island of stability, democracy and liberty; it is a reliable contributor to international security; and it is a dynamic hub for regional and cross-continental trade. International organizations give Georgia top marks for ease of doing business. Georgia is increasingly growing as a tourism destination, with more than 5 million visitors in 2014 — more visitors than actual Georgians. And yet Georgia is only just realizing its full potential through increased connectivity with the global community. 

The Georgian government recently laid out a bold agenda for economic development that will make the country an even better place to do business by focusing on four priorities: improving governance, developing infrastructure and rural areas, reforming our educational system and enacting tax reform. 

2016 is a significant year for our nation’s development. Not only we will hold historic free and fair parliamentary elections, but we are also looking forward to moving to the next level of European integration with visa liberalization. 

Another priority is to make politics more inclusive. As we head into our own elections, the Georgian government has increased engagement with civil society and the spectrum of political organizations in fostering domestic unity and a political consensus that strives to empower all democratic institutions. Under the collaborative leadership style of Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who took office in December, Georgia is discovering new opportunities for cooperation and partnerships internationally as well as at home. 

Let me be clear: Georgia’s Western-oriented foreign policy course and commitment to democracy remain unchanged and irreversible.

Given the continuing challenges we face from Russia, which illegally occupies our sovereign territory and seeks to entrap Georgia in its orbit, there is an urgent need to consolidate all pro-Western forces in the country.  

Georgia is a European nation that seeks greater connectivity to the Euro-Atlantic community. This is the firm choice of the Georgian people. 

Along these lines, Georgia’s cooperation with NATO is now stronger than ever. We are successfully implementing the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package adopted at the Wales Summit in 2014. The largest project under the package — a Joint Training and Evaluation Center — was inaugurated in August 2015. In parallel, the NATO core team has been deployed to Georgia and is embedded at the Ministry of Defense. 2015 also saw the implementation of Agile Spirit, a large-scale NATO-Georgia military exercise.

We are confident that NATO’s decisions at this year’s Warsaw Summit will acknowledge Georgia’s performance and progress on our integration path while bringing us closer to our ultimate objective of membership. 

Like the U.S., for all of our progress, Georgia is also an unfinished story. We are a young democracy that has made tremendous advances in the past 25 years.

Building on our past successes, I am optimistic that we will establish Georgian-American relations as a pillar of regional economic development, democratic progress and security cooperation. Together, we will bring greater stability to a part of the world where it is sorely needed.

Janelidze is Georgia’s minister of Foreign Affairs.