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US officials meet Georgian civil society in advance of Clinton visit

By Ernest Petrosyan
Tuesday, June 5
US diplomats met with Georgian civil society representatives in Batumi yesterday, to discuss democratic reforms prior to the upcoming session of the US-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission, which will be opened by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on June 5.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rubin, as well as US Ambassador to Georgia John Bass, met with Georgian civil society representatives at the recently opened USAID-funded Centre for Civic Engagement in Batumi.

During the roundtable meeting, the group discussed the election environment in Georgia, transparency and accountability in government and the judiciary, inter-ethnic issues, and challenges facing civil society, media, and labour unions.

Nino Lomjaria, head of the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, said she highlighted the problems facing the electoral environment while meeting with Rubin.

“All the issues raised were familiar to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State,” Lomjaria said. According to her, Rubin promised to stress the availability of media, pressure for a free campaign environment, and support labour rights at his meeting with government officials.

“Rubin noted that they will attentively observe these processes, as it will be impossible to assess the elections as fair and free without solving the mentioned problems,” she affirmed.

Lomjaria also noted that Clinton’s visit is very important as it gives civil society organizations the opportunity to raise problems before the government and get international support for solutions.

Head of the Transparency International Georgia, Eka Gigauri, also stressed the importance of a diverse media environment, and the involvement of long-term election observers.

“The media environment is important as the population should get their information from various channels. I also noted the importance of the involvement of a long-term mission of international elections observers, to observe not only on the election day, but also the campaign period,” Gigauri said.

US Ambassador Bass told journalists that the Clinton's visit is one more proof that the US supports all Georgians in their quest to create a better future, when Georgians will be able to live in peace and freedom. According to him, the visit reveals the importance of the partnership between the US and Georgia.

At the regular Monday briefing, Deputy Foreign Minister Nikoloz Vashakidze affirmed that Clinton will meet with high level government officials in Batumi.

In addition, the Secretary of State will be co-chair the US-Georgia Charter session along with Prime Minister Nika Gilauri. Meetings of US Strategic Charter working groups will also be held within the framework of her visit.

"We will talk about a wide range of issues," Vashakidze said, but denied that Georgian-Iranian relations will be emphasized during the bilateral meeting.

“Georgia follows internationally-recognized policy in this respect, which is reflected in the relevant UN resolution and fulfills requirements envisaged by these resolutions,” he maintained.

“Simultaneously, Georgia has ties and cooperation with Iran in those fields that are internationally allowed and no one has a problem with it; these are co-operation in the fields of economy, culture, tourism,” Vashakidze remarked.

Clinton arrived in Batumi on Monday evening after visiting Armenia, and will hold talks with the Georgian government, civil society, and opposition representatives on June 5. The Secretary of State will conclude her South Caucasus trip in Azerbaijan.