Joint press conference
with President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI (President of Georgia) (Interpretation Throughout) : Allow me to greet you, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, I would like to hail the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Alliance, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who has visited Georgia several times. The first time he was here in the capacity of Prime Minister Denmark after the Russian invasion of Georgia. We quite well recall his solidarity with the Georgian people, his brave resolve and humane announcement of solidarity. In the capacity of Secretary General of NATO he expressed his strong support towards Georgian democracy.
He, scores of times, stated his furtherance of Georgia's integration to NATO. In the course of tenure as the Secretary General we were transferred to the group of aspirant countries in the announcements at the Lisbon and then Chicago Summit regarding Georgian integration. They were incremental statements. The steps in rhetoric is very important.
And we very often hear that the Georgian accession to NATO has sort of dragged in time. And I want to tell the sceptics, so we hear such propaganda like NATO looks like an horizon, you approach and it is getting farther, because every visit... and this is not the case; I want to tell to the critics.
So every visit of the Secretary General, every visit of the North Atlantic Council—and they arrived here almost right after the war of 2008—every ministerial event, which is conducted in Brussels, this is another step, this is more integration of Georgia to the most influential military and political organization. This is further rapprochement, additional guarantees of security to Georgia. This is another expression of conviction of Georgia's future.
We like very much our guest. We, of course, like to receive the Secretary General in Georgia, but we know that they are not just mere tourists who take pleasure and delight in travelling in the country. And I want to tell the sceptics it's not like they write, they say something, and they left in the democratic world statements. Supports has its concrete value, continuation in people who cannot evaluation this properly. He's coming from the time then words have no price than the old totalitarian regime made us live in the kingdom of lie. And when we are speaking about North Atlantic Organization every statement, every step forward, every declaration is bearing historical character for Georgia and for our region.
It goes without saying that we are proud of our soldiers who are partaking in ISAF operations in Afghanistan. We reckon that they are the best sons of our country. The face of Georgia; a manifestation of the Georgian bravery and combat spirit. We want to bow to the best children of Georgia who sacrifice their lives, are representatives of multi-ethnical groups of Georgia for the best future of the country.
But I would like to tell you that our pride, historical pride was being the part of great progressive coalition. Georgia's salvation lies in this direction, and I think that we took proper steps when we joined the operation and then we increased our presence in Afghanistan. And this is of very important historical significance for Georgia. We have decided internal political issues. As you might be aware, this morning we very... so dubious step has been undertaken in the field of the issues related to human rights, Georgian democracy. We have spoken very openly and outright on these issues. Georgia is passing through a very difficult stage in this regard. In the long-term perspective we will overcome every barrier. We'll accede to NATO. We will be shaped up as a full-fledged democracy, but we are passing through a very difficult period when facing a group of and a set of problematic issues.
This is all I wanted to say. I want to welcome His Excellency, the Secretary General and after we'll be able to take questions. Thank you.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen : Mr. President, Thank you very much for your kind words.
It is always a pleasure to visit Georgia. Georgia is, in so many ways, a model partner for NATO. You play a strong role in our operations, you are carrying through important reforms, and you are committed to democracy and to membership of the Alliance.
In Afghanistan, you make an outstanding contribution. Your soldiers are playing a vital part in international efforts to stop terrorism spreading to other parts of the world, including this region. Their deployment abroad is helping to make Georgia safer at home.
Your soldiers have shown their courage and their commitment. And some have made the ultimate sacrifice.
I was deeply saddened by the tragic losses in recent weeks. I offer my condolences to the families and loved ones of the fallen, and to the Georgian people. We honour their memory, and we stand firm in our resolve.
Here at home, Georgians have shown great commitment to democracy. Last year's elections were a landmark. They were free and fair, and they led to the first peaceful transition of power in Georgia's history. Mr President, I congratulate you for overseeing that historic moment.
We know from history that democracy is a continuous test, not a one-off event. I trust all political players in Georgia can prove that they can work together for the benefit of all people. Within the rule of law and the constitution. And to make sure that this year's presidential election meets the same high standards.
We will continue to follow events in Georgia closely. And Georgia can count on NATO's support.
Our principles and our decisions are clear. They have not changed.
We support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders. Georgia will become a member of this Alliance, provided you meet the necessary requirements. You will take your rightful place in the Euro-Atlantic family.
NATO's door remains open, and Georgia knows what is necessary to walk through it.
So I look to all in Georgia to continue what has been begun. Take on the reforms. Further strengthen your democracy. This will benefit the whole Georgian people. And benefit Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Questions and answers
MODERATOR: Thank you. (Inaudible...).
Q: Allow me to greet you. TV company, Maestro. Your Excellency, at the meeting with the students you spoke about the importance of consensus regarding the construction of the new state. But we saw many high-ranked detainees like Vano Merabishvili, former Prime Minister, which caused concern of European parliamentarians and the U.S. Congress members. You met the opposition, you met the chair of the Parliament, the president and the other leaders of the opposition speak about political persecution. What arguments have you heard from the government?
And I want to ask you, in general, what you think about the new policy of reinstating justice by the new government, which is related to democratic build-up in George and membership in NATO?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): To make clear that we follow recent arrests of former government officials with great concern. I have, in my conversation with representatives of the government, stressed that we expect Georgian authorities and Georgian courts to fully respect the fundamental principles of the rule of law and ensure people due process.
Let me stress that we're not going to interfere with these judicial processes, but it is crucial to avoid even the perception that these judicial processes are politically motivated.
The government has assured me that such prosecutions will live up to respect for the rule of law. People will be ensured due process. The processes will be fully transparent and we would expect Georgian authorities and Georgian courts to live up to those basic principles. I say this in very strong terms because while NATO is a military Alliance, we are much more than that. NATO is also a community of values. A community of values based on freedom, individual liberty, democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights, including rights of minorities. And for aspirant countries it is absolutely crucial to fully live up to and respect these principles.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. (Inaudible...).
MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI: I would say just a couple of words. You have heard the statement of the Secretary General that he expresses quite high concern regarding the processes which you have touched upon. A couple of days ago in Luxembourg was held the EU ministerial session, the Foreign Ministers' session. This is the executive body which is making the decision on the integration of other countries into the EU. They discussed, they debated the issues of Georgia and you heard the statements by the Foreign Ministers were they were sort of warning, like Georgia and the Ukraine, it was mentioned that these are the problematic countries, and let me remind you that the self-same ministers two years ago were saying that Georgia is a frontrunner regarding integration to the European space.
After two years what kind of (inaudible), so we committed and we were excellent students and we are right now we turn into very poor students, with poor performance. How we manage to do this? What our foreign policy looks like? We were the frontrunners. We used to be commended, I mean, we were used as an exemplary country, and right now we are sort of referred to as one of the problematic issues, as concerns the European integration.
I think that this must serve as the source of concern for every political party. We are not sort of capitalizing this against somebody on this issue. Because this is related to us, the president. Every political party must work to move Georgia away from this dangerous zone. Because if the Ministers, Foreign Ministers of EU state that Georgia's integration has been brought to a halt this means Georgia is rolling backward for many years. Nobody can take lightly of the sliding back of Georgia.
So we must not draw limitation lines. We are not in the Kindergarten where they sort of... the reprimand made by the teacher in the Kindergarten is forgotten after a couple of minutes. These sort of statements bear very serious significance. This is a noteworthy thing, this is food for thought.
In the morning you must be in the know that a couple of dozen of Tbilisi city assembly they were detained and in handcuffs. They were sort of brought around the city. They, I don't know, they were involved in a tour, I mean, in a forceful tour and the idea of freedom and democracy is much more.
I would like to thank the Secretary General who has commended me during his meeting with the students, who use very good words. But democracy is much wider than Saakashvili or (inaudible...) leader. Freedom is not Saakashvili's (inaudible), the democratic build-up does not mean... does not infer(?) Saakashvili.
For example, David Nanidze, Davit Nanidze. Twenty-four hours, and this is a person who nobody can take any... I don't know anyone who is much more honest than this person. I really don't know. This is the paragon of being... of honesty in members of intelligentsia, the builder of new Georgia. Wherever we needed this person, this person who showed up with architect, and so he designed the project of new (inaudible), new Batumi, new Sighnaghi, new (inaudible), whatever. And overall Tbilisi. I don't know, maybe you don't, so you don't like (inaudible) Mestia.
Yesterday a certain individual said that this was all disgusting. But you... one detains Ninidze, whoever, as a wolf and put a handcuff and drag him along the city, this is a shameful spot for... not for the government who is committing this, but everybody who were the bystanders, who were the eye witnesses. This is... this makes us sick. And when we're speaking about free elections my friend and a leading candidate for the National Movement who was detained at that time, almost 37 days, this person on a very disputed, I mean, very shaky charges, was detained, who was not going to run somewhere. And he was... and so within my delegation, because I was going abroad, and he was detained and he's incarcerated. He's behind bars. This is not normal situation. We must give another thought to that.
Let me reiterate, I don't want to be a (inaudible) and don't want to go against anyone. I don't want to score political whatever. I don't want to gain political scores. We must think that democracy is resting on values, as it has been said. Thank you. I beg your pardon for...
Q: Yes, it's not a secret that Georgia's success indicators are higher than any other of the countries that are already members of NATO, and I'm talking about the successful reforms and judiciary, reforms about corruption and military, as well as elections. Still, Georgia is asked, repeatedly, higher and higher standards to qualify in order to be a NATO member. Basically, question is that do we have to expect any more milestones to overcome, more tests, or are we doing enough, or is it... basically is the list complete, basically?
And Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General said that coming elections are another milestone for Georgia. What are you going to do after these elections to make sure that Georgia's chosen path continues? Thank you.
MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI: What did I... second question, what did I tell you, the first question they would try to trick you now. To trick you on these things. That's a typical negative propaganda against NATO, that NATO comes up with new goals all the time, to keep us away.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: And I can assure you that there are no double standards. The requirements for Georgia will be absolutely the same as requirements for any other aspirant country. You have already made a lot of progress, but... and this is the reason why I have also publicly stated that Georgia has moved closer to NATO.
But there is still work to do and we all know that, and the Georgian authorities know that, when it comes to reforms of your military, when it comes to reforms of the judiciary. But also sustaining democracy and of course, the upcoming presidential elections are an important element in that.
So we're not setting new, higher standards. When Georgia meets the normal standards and live up to the normal requirements, then we have achieved our ultimate goal.
And let me reiterate what we said in Bucharest, 2008, Georgia will become a member of NATO once Georgia fulfils the necessary requirements.
MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI: (Speaking in Georgian...)
Q: After the elections, when you're no longer president, what are your plans? What are you going to do to make sure that Georgia stays on the chosen path?
MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI: Well, not that I've deliberated too much about it. I know that the Secretary General's term is also expiring, so he's also thinking what he will do one day after that. Maybe we will sit all of us together and make up our mind together. I'm just kidding, but in a way, yes, I want to stay, not just in politics, but to say something I would like to focus on bringing up the standards of political awareness and education. That's something that really bothers me. I think one of the main reasons why some of the things come here is from the absence of basic knowledge and basic standards of what it means.
And from that point of view I will do my best to also be on this instructive educational (inaudible) side of politics rather than just purely like current politics. And I don't know how to do it yet, but that's one of the things that I generally think that one of the main problems we have together, and also in my country is lack of education, absence of basic consensus of what the political values are. Not that this exists anywhere in the world, but at least some basics. So we'd like to work on that.
MODERATOR: Dmitri (inaudible...).
Q: ...coalition are insisting that UNM, former ruling party should cease to exist, and that this party should be sent to political oblivion. Political rhetoric is often linked to the arrest of former officials. What is your take of that in the context of the importance of political cohabitation?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I think... I've been a politician for many, many years myself and I think honestly speaking sometimes I've also expressed the wish that this or that party might disappear from earth, but of course in reality it's for the voters to decide. And this is actually the essence of being a mature democracy, that judicial processes and the court rooms should not replace Parliament and should not replace the will of the people.
It is for the people to decide which political parties should be represented in the Parliament. It's for the people to decide who should form government and who should be moved to opposition. So that's my answer to that.
It's also about political culture. It's important to realize that true democracy is much more than just majority rule. A true democracy is also about respect for minorities, including political, minorities including the opposition. True democracy is also about dialogue and cohabitation.
MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI: You see, what did I tell you. That's the kind of things I want to spread as a message all over. To replicate.