President Saakashvili awards John McCain Hero of Georgia Order
By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, January 12
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili awarded US Senator John McCain the Hero of Georgia Order on Monday. Speaking at the award ceremony in the Batumi Sheraton Hotel, Saakashvili hailed the Senator’s efforts during the August war.
“You always discover who your true friends are in times of severe hardship. Senator McCain left his election campaign and came to Georgia during the Russian-Georgian conflict to defend Georgia’s interests on different international TV channels,” Saakashvili said “We should never forget this… McCain has lived the life of a hero, has done heroic deeds for the US and Georgia, so in the name of the whole of Georgia I would like to award him the Hero of Georgia Order,” the President said.
The award is an expression of friendship between the two leaders as well as an expression of partnership and solidarity between the two nations, McCain said, adding that the US and Georgia are “confronted by common challenges, bound by common interests and united by common democratic values of individual liberty, equal justice, human rights and human dignity. These convictions join our nations in a friendship that is greater than any one leader, greater than any one Government, greater than the events of today and tomorrow. Our friendship is as enduring as our fidelity to the indivisible values that we share,” the US Senator said. “Of all the honours I have received in my life the Hero of Georgia award is among the most meaningful and is one which I will cherish forever,” he added.
Earlier on Monday the Senator met representatives of the Georgian opposition. Leader of the Parliamentary opposition Christian Democratic Movement Giorgi Targamadze, member of the Alliance for Georgia and the Republican Party leader Davit Usupashvili and Defend Georgia leader Levan Gachechiladze met McCain at the Hotel Intourist in Batumi. The opposition leaders said that the main subjects discussed had been Georgia’s foreign threats and the process of democratisation in the country. “We talked about Russian-Georgian relations, US support for Georgia and the need to strengthen the pressure on Russia to meet its commitments undertaken by signing the ceasefire agreement,” Giorgi Tarmadze said.
“We told Senator McCain that without democracy Georgia will not be able to cope with foreign threats. We also told him that US support is very important for Georgia and that there are ways to make this assistance more effective,” Usupashvili said after the meeting. Levan Gachechiladze said that McCain is “one of those rare people to whom Saakashvili might listen,” adding that the Senator’s visit might bring some tangible positive results for the country.
The Georgian Labour Party criticised McCain for “lobbying” for President Saakashvili. Speaking at a special press conference on Monday the leader of the party, Shalva Natelashvili, said that John McCain, together with previous US President George Bush, had been responsible for the Rose Revolution in Georgia, which according to Natelashvili was a “coup d’etat carried out in an anti-constitutional way.”
Senator McCain also visited Zugdidi where he met the head of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia, Hansjorg Haber and IDPs from Abkhazia. Haber described their meeting as “interesting.” He said that the sides had discussed the future prospects of the mission and ways to restoring trust bsetween the Georgian and Abkhaz peoples. Georgia’s strategy towards its occupied regions was one of the issues on the agenda, according to Haber.
Russia should meet its ceasefire agreement commitments, McCain said in his comments for the media at Batumi Airport. The international community should use all institutions to make this happen and evaluate the situation here, he said. He called on other countries to get involved in the regulation of Georgian-Russian relations.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry assessed McCain’s visit to Georgia as of “vital importance”. “With this visit Senator McCain has stressed that the US supports Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and that security guarantees in Georgia are important for the US,” Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze said.
Senator McCain, who had arrived in Georgia late on Sunday with two fellow Republican Senators, John Barrasso and John Thune, left on January 11 from Batumi Airport.