US, Georgia boost security cooperation as Kerry visits

AP News
Posted: Jul 06, 2016 9:48 AM

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The United States and Georgia agreed Wednesday to boost their military cooperation in a signal of America's commitment to Georgia's defense and a not-so-subtle message to Russia ahead of this week's NATO summit.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on the first leg a two-day visit to the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine before joining President Barack Obama at the NATO meeting in Poland, signed the new security cooperation agreement with Georgian Prime Minister Georgy Kvirikashvili. The signing came after talks in Tbilisi that also covered economic, education and judicial and electoral reform issues ahead of parliamentary elections set for October.

"The United States remains steadfast in our support of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia's occupation and militarization of parts of Georgia's territory are unacceptable," Kerry said, demanding that Russia abide by the terms of a 2008 truce that ended a brief war over Georgia's separatist region of South Ossetia.

The new agreement will expand U.S.-Georgian security cooperation, giving Georgia access to additional American equipment, training and intelligence with an eye to protecting its borders from future potential encroachment. It will also modernize Georgia's security forces and allow it to more fully integrate with NATO missions.

Kerry will head to Kiev on Thursday for similar talks with Ukrainian officials before meeting Obama in Warsaw.

Georgia and Ukraine are both deeply worried about Russian activities on their territory and have sought closer ties with the West, including association with the European Union and the prospect of NATO membership.

Over deep Russian objections, NATO agreed in 2008 that Georgia would eventually become an alliance member but eight years later has still not joined to the impatience of many in Georgia who have watched warily as Russia has remained in South Ossetia and another enclave of Abkhazia and also moved on parts of eastern Ukraine, annexing Crimea and backing pro-Russian separatists.

Kerry vowed that NATO would renew its membership promise to Georgia but could not offer a definitive timetable for its entry. U.S. officials said it was their hope that the new cooperation agreement would reassure Georgians of American commitment to their security.

"Obviously we have great respect for your desires as a country to be able to look to the West and engage with the West without punishment, without retribution," Kerry said.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Kerry said the visits to Tbilisi and Kiev were intended primarily as a signal of U.S. backing for Georgia and Ukraine but suggested that Moscow should take note. The official was not authorized to discuss the trip publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.