Mike Pence photo

The Vice President's News Conference with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvrikashvilli of Georgia in Tbilisi, Georgia

August 01, 2017

PRIME MINISTER KVRIKASHVILI: (In progress, as interpreted.) -- that we are receiving not only the Vice President of our key strategic partner, Vice President of the United States, but the great friend of Georgia, Mr. Mike Pence, who we obtained as friend not long ago.

In Munich after the brief meeting of introduction, I was honored to have meetings on the invitation of the Vice President in Washington. And we continued our meetings (inaudible) actually, your visit shortly after coming to office. He is attesting to the large desire by President Trump and your administration to strengthen the strategic cooperation with Georgia. For this, please accept my hearty gratitude.

This year notes the 25th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties. And in this regard, the U.S. role in strengthening our democratic development, sovereignty, and the track leading towards membership of NATO -- your role was the key one. And by your assistance, Georgia is right now neither Soviet nor post-Soviet-type of a country. Right now we are the European democracy associated with EU.

We stand proud alongside with American side on the watch of the global stability, and we're contributing into the peace worldwide. Georgian people highly prize the friendship of the American people standing by and invariable support.

Mr. Vice President, we have conversed even on the deeper insight in terms of our cooperation. I would like to single out and salute our work in the defense field.

Your upcoming meeting with the Georgian and U.S. servicemen partaking in Noble Partner exercise is strongly attesting to the U.S. support in terms of solidifying Georgian sovereignty, Georgian security, and Georgia's aspiration to NATO.

We have agreed on the joint plan of action that will further contribute in strengthening of the Georgian defense capability. It's very important for stability within our region.

The U.S. has contributed financially immensely to assist Georgia in the course of 25 years, and we are -- extremely (inaudible) that we're becoming more and more attractive for U.S. visitors. We have one of the best visits environment, with a low level of corruption and bureaucracy; and with low taxes, as well, which is the best opportunity for the benefits of the United States' visited.

We are aiming to prepare (inaudible) for U.S. visits in the region. And it is no small feat to underscore the U.S. visit's interest, so we (inaudible) infrastructure projects going on in our country.

Group involvement in the deep-sea, Anakalia (inaudible) projects -- will also salute the signing of the document between Anakalia Port Consortium and one of different (inaudible) SSA Marine, U.S. company managing ports. (Inaudible) of this agreement, it will manage the port terminal and also make investment in this project, which is the overarching one for Georgia.

The (inaudible) project is one more time manifesting the readiness of American businesses to get involved in this project and turning Georgia into regional hub. We have implemented the scores of (inaudible) energy projects in Georgia on the grounds of cooperation with the U.S. side, which is assuring the sustainability of European energy safety.

And we are going to continue this cooperation. We are the partners who stand ready for the high level of economic trade and investment relations, which will be resting on the mutual benefits.

Georgia is a very important partner to the United States in the region. And also we are sharing one and the same values like democracy and human rights.

America has played a significant role in construction of our democratic institutions. And our development is a precursor for us; as we'll be in the position to develop the sustainable and strong state that will assure the protection of rights of every citizen and retaining cultural identity.

The support of the U.S. is the overarching in the peaceful resolution of Georgia-Russian conflict. We are highly prizing this invariable end -- staunch position by the U.S. toward Georgian territorial integrity.

It was unprecedented on the part of President Trump, personally, you, and the Congress, the resolution made on the Georgian occupied territories.

We have deliberated on the immense challenges facing our country at the outcome of the occupation. You have had the huge role to play in the Geneva talks, and it is very important at a high-level engagement to seek now concrete solutions of the occupation of Georgian territory, ensuring safety as well as the solution in terms of politically resolve this conflict and allow me unequivocally mention in the end of my speech that Georgia will be standing by the United States when we will dealing with the most important challenges to our friends on a world scale. Our partnership is oriented at the strengthening of Georgian, as well as the global security in terms of assisting peaceful and democratic development.

Allow me one more time to emphasize the immense importance of the visit and the results which were procured. We highly appreciate the fact that -- the fact that -- existing challenges (inaudible) Georgia, the Vice President within the framework of first bilateral European tour visited Georgia.

A lot of thanks to our American counterparts (inaudible) Georgia and their contribution in deepening our mutual relationship -- special contribution, and I am assured that by joint effort, we'll further deepen our strategic cooperation.

At the same time, we are extremely gratified to introduce Georgian culture to the Vice President, his spouse, and our American guests.

Thank you very much for your attention.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Prime Minister Kvrikashvili, thank you so much for those words and for the hospitality you have shown me and my family. It was an honor to welcome you to the White House just a few short months ago, and now it's my honor to be welcomed by you to the beautiful and storied nation of Georgia.

The President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump sent me here with a simple message for you and for the people of Georgia: We are with you. We stand with you. We are proud of our friendship and strategic partnership with the nation and the people of Georgia.

In word, I'm here to say America First does not mean America alone. And America stands with Georgia.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the United States' diplomatic relationship with Georgia, yet this is a nation whose roots stretch back into the mists of history.

Sitting at the crossroads of empires and civilizations -- where East meets West, where North meets South -- Georgia has fostered your own traditions, your own language, and your own identity over the millennia.

Today the people of Georgia are renowned the world over for your vibrant culture, which my wife and I enjoyed last night, at our first Supra dinner, featuring Georgian cuisine and a lot of it, and traditional song and dance from Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and all across Georgia.

We've also been deeply inspired by the rich heritage of faith, and my wife and I look forward to visiting the historic Sioni Cathedral and meeting the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church this afternoon.

And while this may be my first visit to this nation, the enduring courage and spirit of the Georgian people have long inspired me.

It was only a generation ago that Georgia was still imprisoned inside the then-Soviet Union. When that brutal regime collapsed, you reclaimed your independence and your freedom. You reached out your hand in friendship to Europe and the United States of America -- and we were proud to reach back.

Today, I commended the Prime Minister for Georgia's democratic development, which has brought Georgia closer to unity with Europe and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Further progress on the goals that the Prime Minister has set will bring Georgia even closer and NATO even closer to your grasp, and it will strengthen the bond between our nations.

Nowhere is the bond between our two nations stronger than in our shared effort to promote security and stability across the wider world. Georgia is a key strategic partner of the United States of America.

Since 2004, thousands of Georgians have served shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans -- in Kosovo, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan alone, I say with a grateful heart, Georgia has provided more troops on a per-capita basis than any other country in the world. And 31 brave Georgian soldiers have given their lives for the cause of freedom. The American people remember and mourn the sacrifice of your countrymen. They are heroes, all. And they and their families will be enshrined in the hearts of the American people forever.

Later today, I will meet with troops participating in Exercise Noble Partner. This initiative has brought together the armed forces of the United States, Georgia, and many other nations to train together and strengthen Georgia's ability to defend itself, and it's only one of many examples of the United States' commitment to Georgia's security.

President Trump and I stand by the 2008 NATO Bucharest statement, which made it clear that Georgia will one day become a member of NATO.

As I expressed to the Prime Minister, it is heartening to see that Georgia already exceeds NATO's goal of spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its national defense. But as we all know, Georgia's investment in defense is an investment borne of necessity.

At this very moment, just 40 miles from where we stand, Russian tanks stand on occupied territory in South Ossetia. Today, Russia continues to occupy one-fifth of Georgian territory.

So to be clear: The United States of America strongly condemns Russia's occupation on Georgia's soil.

The United States supports Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. And under President Donald Trump, the United States of America will reject any claim, at any time, by any nation that undermines this enduring principle.

President Trump has called on Russia to "cease its destabilizing activities" -- and my purpose here today is to reinforce that message to the people of Georgia.

In a sign of our commitment, very soon, President Trump will sign legislation to strengthen and codify the United States' sanctions against Russia.

As always, our country prefers a constructive relationship with Russia based on cooperation and common interests. But the President and our Congress are unified in our message to Russia: A better relationship, the lifting of sanctions will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused sanctions to be imposed in the first place.

We hope for better days, and we hope for better relations with Russia, but the recent diplomatic action taken by Moscow I can assure will not deter the commitment of the United States to our security, to that of our allies, and to freedom-loving nations around the world like Georgia.

The United States will continue to work with Georgia to reduce your vulnerabilities and counter Russian aggression. And so, too, will we work with Georgia to deepen our ties of commerce of which the Prime Minister just spoke.

The United States has a keen interest in expanding our trade and investment relationship with Georgia, and your ongoing reforms, Mr. Prime Minister, have clearly demonstrated your openness and commitment to a stronger commercial partnership with the West.

Today, I thanked the Prime Minister for his leadership and focus on bringing greater economic opportunity to all of Georgia's citizens.

The Anaklia deep-sea port shows the potential of a stronger bilateral relationship between our nations. American companies are investing alongside their Georgian counterparts in this multi-billion-dollar project. As we look toward the future, our two nations have untold opportunities to contribute even more to each other's prosperity.

The United States has stood with Georgia for a quarter century, and under President Donald Trump, we will continue to stand with you -- as partners, as friends, and one day, we will stand together as allies.

Georgia's future is in the West. And as the people of Georgia have long declared, our strength is now and always will be in our unity.

So thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you for your hospitality here today. And thank you for the strong leadership that you've provided for this country. We look forward to working with you for the prosperity and the security of the people of Georgia and of our great nation.

Q: (As interpreted.) Mr. Vice President, while visiting the Baltic countries, you mentioned that U.S. always stands to guard the safety of the world, that the Americans will always support Georgia's safety. And when we see that the -- on a daily basis, the rights of the people living on the occupied territories are being breached -- what steps may be taken by the Georgian side, alongside with the (inaudible)?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, as I said, the United States of America stands strongly for the territorial integrity of Georgia, and we've stood on that principle since the time that Russian tanks overtook Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008. And we'll continue to stand strong.

The joint military operations that are taking place today we hope are a visible sign of our commitment to Georgia's sovereignty and to her internationally recognized borders.

We also believe that in addition to security partnership, that a stronger and more prosperous Georgia will lead to a restoration of a whole and free Georgia. And so the United States will continue to look for ways that we can strengthen Georgia not only from the standpoint of its defense and security, but where we can strengthen Georgia economically, creating jobs and opportunity and prosperity, and strengthening the hand of Georgia so that one day, Georgia can once again celebrate its historic territorial integrity intact.

PRIME MINISTER KVRIKASHVILI: (In progress, as interpreted.) -- so much for your question, and I would like to render my thanks to the Vice President for his clear-cut (inaudible) message, invariable support, which actually we -- which with Georgia (inaudible) our strategic partner in the United States. As it has been noted, our territorial integrity (inaudible) acute problem which requires consistent approach on one part to attain in Georgia stability, economic development, and democratic evolvement, as well as (inaudible) in-depth cooperation to achieve the advances in the field of safety.

But the territorial integrity may be resurrected by the peaceful steps, economic development, and by the staunch support of our strategic partners -- first and foremost, the United States.

Q: Mr. Vice President, in light of Russia's retaliation against sanctions, as well as Russia sending 100,000 troops to the eastern end of NATO's territories to drill, do you truly believe the better relationship that you and President Trump want with Russia is possible? And if things continue in this direction, could we be headed for another Cold War?

And then, Mr. Prime Minister, you know better than anyone how real the threat of Russia aggression is. The Vice President just said the United States supports Georgia's aspirations into NATO. So what concrete assurances do you have that the U.S. will defend you should Russia attack, as President Putin has threatened?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, thank you for the question. President Trump sent me on this journey to send a very clear message to the Baltic States, to the people of Georgia, and before the end of the day in Montenegro that the United States of America will stand with freedom-loving nations around the world; and that we will do so, as the President has said, not merely with words but with actions.

The presence of American forces in Poland, the presence of the British forces, with whom I met in Estonia at a gathering yesterday, all give material evidence of the commitment of NATO in that region to live up to our Article 5 obligation.

The current Russian exercises, which news reports today suggest will move up to 100,000 Russian troops into Belarus, is simply a confirmation of the importance of clarity within the NATO partnership.

President Trump and I believe that better relations with Russia may be possible. But as the President has said, we'll see.

But negotiations between parties always begin with a recognition and a respect for the position of each party. And with the sanctions that President Trump will sign this week, codifying sanctions that have been in place by the United States, our country is sending a very clear message and calling on our European allies to join us in a very clear message that we mean what we say and say what we mean; that Russia's destabilizing activities in Ukraine, their support for rogue regimes like Iran and Syria and North Korea, that their posture has to change.

But we believe that by being clear and being strong, that we can pursue a dialogue based on mutual understanding. And President Trump holds the view that it's been a lack of clarity and commitment by the United States that's created much of the instability in the world today.

When in the past America had spoken of red lines and not followed through on red lines, many argue that that emboldened others to act in ways that they would not have.

And so President Trump believes that we can have peace through strength. And strong and clear positions, we believe, can create a foundation where authentic dialogue may -- we hope -- result in better relations and in the resolution of long-standing disputes in Ukraine, in Georgia, and in other areas of the world.

PRIME MINISTER KVRIKASHVILI: Thank you, Mr. Vice President, and thank you for the question.

I think the very clear and strong message "we are with you" tells everything. Georgia faces endless provocations daily. On the occupation line, we are facing challenges of borderization, capturing, kidnapping of ethnic Georgians -- violating basic human rights of ethnic Georgians residing on the occupied territories. But the response to that is only even more resolve and consistency and dedication to the goals we set for ourselves.

Integration into NATO is that process which matters for Georgia. Of course, the final goal to join NATO is set by Georgian population, and we are following this very difficult path of reforming Georgia's military system and developing institutional democracy in Georgia.

And believe me, through the consistency and through the dedication, clearness of our messages and unity with our important strategic partners, it will be able for Georgia to reach this very important goal to ensure long-term stability. And it is possible. We Georgians believe that.

Q: Mr. Vice President, what are the red lines -- Washington's red lines on Russia, especially in regard to Georgia? And also you said in Estonia that in case of Russia's aggressions against NATO allies, members of the alliance, the United States will intervene. What would be your reaction in case of Russia's aggression against Georgia -- against NATO's partners?

Thank you very much.

And, Mr. Prime Minister, do we have enough patience to wait for NATO membership where we are waiting -- Georgia is waiting for a while? Thank you.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Well, thank you for the question.

The essence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a mutual-defense agreement, that an attack on one is an attack on all. And what the President wanted me to communicate as I travel to our NATO countries, as later today I'll visit the newest members of NATO, is that the United States says what it means and means what it says. And we'll live up to our obligations under Article 5.

With regard to Georgia, we strongly support Georgia's aspiration to become a member of NATO. And we'll continue to work closely with this Prime Minister and the government of Georgia broadly to advance the policies that will facilitate becoming a NATO member. We believe that Georgia has made extraordinary progress -- not just in the past 25 years, but over the last five years, there has been significant progress in Georgia that we believe will strengthen the application for NATO membership.

With regard to the Russian aggression, which took place in 2008, which has as we stand here today Russian tanks parked on Georgian soil 40 miles from where we stand, the United States will continue to be unambiguous in our commitment to the territorial integrity of Georgia.

We will stand for a strong and whole Georgia. We will continue to provide support for the defense and security of Georgia, and we will continue to seek a peaceful resolution that will reestablish the internationally recognized borders of this nation.

PRIME MINISTER KVRIKASHVILI: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Thank you for question. You said it's about patience. Yet it's about strategic patience I would say. To stay consistent on the road where we are, today we have all practical tools to advance towards NATO membership. We have substantial package. We are implementing it very successfully. We have Georgia Defense

Readiness program, jointly with the United States, which is complementary to the substantial package.

And it was said many times by the leaders of our strategic partners -- the United States first, of course, and NATO leadership that no other country has a say to block the membership of Georgia to NATO. It's only NATO members and applicant countries who decide about the future in NATO. And we have made our own decision.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you. Mr. Vice President, you've talked about the new Russia sanctions bill as an example of U.S. resolve in the face of Russia aggression. But did not the Trump White House oppose this bill, fearing that it relinquishes presidential authority to Congress? What happened in this process that caused the White House to sign on?

And, Mr. Prime Minister, the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia tried to interfere in our presidential election. Living so close to Russia, having dealt with Russian provocations, do you have any advice for the United States in how to cope with Russian efforts to intervene in our elections and influence voters in our country?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Thank you, Peter. Thank you for the question.

President Trump will sign the Russia sanctions bill soon. Our administration had concerns about this legislation when it emerged from the United States Senate. The concern was that it did not include the traditional flexibility that is afforded to the State Department or any administration in the conduct of American foreign policy.

I'm pleased to report that the bill improved significantly as it moved through the House of Representatives and through the legislative process. This legislation we believe will not only codify current Russian sanctions that our administration has upheld, but will also strengthen those sanctions -- even while giving the President of the United States and our State Department the ability and the flexibility to be able to administer American foreign policy as appropriate.

And let me say that in signing the sanction, our President and our Congress are speaking with a unified voice that those matters that the President spoke about so eloquently in Warsaw, about Russian destabilizing activities, about Russia's efforts to support rogue regimes -- that has to change.

For there to be a change in our relationship with Russia, Russia has to change its behavior. And by these sanctions, by my presence here, by the President's powerful affirmation of the objectives and the values of our alliance in the West, our hope is that we will move toward better relations and a better future and a more peaceful world as a result.

PRIME MINISTER KVRIKASHVILI: Thank you. First of all, let me once again mention how important is strong America for Georgia. We are genuinely interested in the strength of the United States, and we would like to see the United States united to cope with the global challenges.

I don't think that Georgia is in a position to judge about Russian interference. With our excellent intelligence capabilities, we were not able to detect any interference, and we think that American nation has made its decision to elect a President. And of course, we look for more partnership with the current administration of the United States.

Thank you.


Mike Pence, The Vice President's News Conference with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvrikashvilli of Georgia in Tbilisi, Georgia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/329582

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