The Obama administration on Monday reaffirmed support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity while it pursues better relations with Russia - Georgia's adversary in last year's military conflict. The White House says Vice President Joe Biden will visit Georgia next month after President Barack Obama's summit visit to Moscow.
The Obama administration is reassuring Tbilisi that its efforts to improve relations with Moscow are not coming at the expense of Georgia or other countries in the region.
The comments came at high-level U.S.-Georgia talks aimed at giving substance to the U.S.-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership that was signed here by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze in the closing days of the Bush administration.
Partnership accord important
Vashadze returned to the State Department on Monday for a follow-up meeting to launch a permanent bilateral committee, including working groups on economic relations, defense and security, enhancing democracy and people-to-people exchanges.
He called the wide-ranging partnership accord signed on January 9 the most important agreement in Georgia's post-Soviet era history.
"It's a historic day for Georgia, like it was when we signed the charter. It is the one single-most important agreement in the modern history of our country signed since we regained our independence. And we are very thankful to our hosts, to the American delegation for this useful and very result-oriented work," he said.
US supports Georgian independence
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg headed the U.S. side at the meeting, standing in for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is recovering from surgery for the broken elbow she sustained in a fall last week.
Steinberg reaffirmed "strong" United States support for Georgian independence and territorial integrity, and efforts to assist the process of reform and professionalization of the Georgian military needed to achieve eventual NATO membership.
The Deputy Secretary of State also stressed that the Obama administration's pursuit of a better relationship with Moscow, including a hoped for new strategic arms accord by year's end, does not come at the expense of Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia last August.
"We believe very strongly that by building a better relationship, if we can, with Russia, it will contribute to the well-being and security of countries like Georgia. And that would be very much or aim. We do not see our relationship with Russia as in any way detracting from or at the expense of the security and well-being of any of the countries in the region, any of our partners," he said.
The United States has led international opposition to Moscow's recognition of the self-declared independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Washington has criticized Moscow's insistence on international peacekeeping plans that would imply recognition of the areas.
US welcomes Tbilisi's restraint
At the press event with the Georgian foreign minister, Steinberg also welcomed the Tbilisi government's "restraint" in handling street protests last month.
The White House announced later on Monday that Vice President Joe Biden will visit Georgia and Ukraine in late July, two weeks after President Obama's scheduled summit visit to Moscow. It said Biden will meet government and opposition leaders in both countries and demonstrate U.S. support for continued democratic and economic reform.