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US-Georgia relationship more important than ever

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Strong American leadership makes the world better and safer for both its citizens and the rest of us. As a former CEO, finance minister, and now prime minister of Georgia, I can attest that America stands as the greatest global catalyst for democracy, peace and prosperity. Since regaining our independence in 1991, these three pillars have served as a template for Georgia’s development.

For thousands of years, Georgia has stood at the crossroads of civilizations, and it has survived countless foreign invasions. From this experience, we have emerged as a resilient people who value freedom, security, and stability.

{mosads}We have also learned through experience to keep our friends close and pay our dues for the honor of true friendship. The Unites States has valued both our contributions to peace and our example to others. Our debt to America for supporting our independence with existential economic support and security assistance, cannot be overstated.

In recent years, Georgia has strengthened its relationship with the U.S. modeling itself upon American ideals and free-market, pro-Western policies. Through close cooperation, our two nations have developed a deep, durable and mutually beneficial security and defense relationship.

We share President Trump’s view that dialogue with foes is far preferable to conflict. Georgia stands ready to help America find solutions to the region’s seemingly intractable problems.

Georgia resides at the intersection of many American vital interests. Georgia is the eastern anchor of any imaginable NATO Black Sea security architecture, and a gateway for connecting vital trade and energy routes between Europe and Asia. As America’s closest partner in the region, Georgia’s geography and history give it important knowledge of wider regional and Middle Eastern cultures and interests. 

Georgia continues to be an example of a responsible partner, punching above its weight. We have volunteered our soldiers to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with American and NATO forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, sustaining heavy casualties. Georgia also serves as an important logistics and transport hub for supplying allied forces in these areas, providing a reliable alternative to existing routes.

As an aspirant to full NATO membership with America’s backing, Georgia now spends more than 2 percent of its GDP on defense. Whenever the U.S. or NATO ask for support, we answer the call.

Ten years ago, our northern neighbor Russia invaded Georgia and took possession of 20 percent of our sovereign territory. In population percentage terms, this is equivalent to the Russians occupying Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota-the entire American Midwest-and Florida and Texas.

In the face of ongoing occupation, we seek neither conflict nor confrontation. We continue to work towards a peaceful and practical solution to Russia’s ongoing occupation of our lands. We are trying our best to de-escalate tensions, but, to date, the Russian government has not responded to our appeals to find a satisfactory solution.

Despite the challenges of Russian occupation, Georgia has made tremendous progress in recent years. Georgia boasts substantial year-to-year increase in our GDP, our exports, and a healthy and growing tourism industry. According to the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2018” report, Georgia holds 9th place on the total count of reforms in the world, ranking the highest in Europe and Central Asia. Just recently, the International Monetary Fund revised Georgia’s 2018 growth projection upward to 5.5 percent as a result of stronger than expected economic performance.

We believe a strong and prosperous Georgia is in Russia’s national interest and should not be viewed as a threat. Moreover, Moscow should not view Georgia in the context of confrontation with the West.

The Georgia-U.S. partnership is as solid today as it has ever been, and it continues to strengthen under the Trump administration. I believe that America has a direct interest in a peaceful, just resolution of the Georgian-Russian conflict.

Successful U.S. engagement in resolving this conflict would stand as a model for the rest of the world and demonstrate the power of diplomacy.

Today, Georgia is poised to reach greater economic heights as a key hub for global trade and foothold for U.S. businesses in Eurasia. Georgia facilitates the stability of its region through good governance, economic development, and cooperation with neighbors.

I am confident that a free and unified Georgia will serve as a linchpin for advancing our two nations’ shared interests of peace and prosperity in a challenging neighborhood and around the world.

Mamuka Bakhtadze is Prime Minister of Georgia. He was previously Minister of Finance, and before that CEO of the Georgian Railway.

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