Nana Sajaia of VOA's Georgian service spoke with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, following Vice President Mike Pence's visit to the country. Below is a transcript, edited for clarity and length.
Q: Vice President Mike Pence is the highest official of the current U.S. administration who visited Georgia. What is the takeout from his visit?
A: The vice president's visit was extremely important, and so is the timing. The administration is six months in office but we've seen continued stable support for Georgia from the Senate, House and White House. We see how very carefully, very targeted the U.S. new administration treats our issues. If you listened to V.P. Pence's speech, the clarity; there was no ambiguity. He was clear in his language as he spoke of freedom, our territorial integrity, our sovereignty, our partnership with the U.S.A., but most importantly, the future goals of my country, goals such as Euro-Atlantic integration. V.P. Pence mentioned that the future of Georgia will be in NATO, and the U.S. is backing up the 2008 NATO summit decision on future prospects of Georgia. And the second and the most important issue for my country is territorial integrity and reunification of Georgian sovereignty. This was clearly defined by V.P. Pence.
Q: What other issues did you discuss with Pence during the bilateral meeting?
A: I suggested to VP Pence a whole new upgrade of our bilateral relationships — I suggested that we get a new format in the form of a special representative.
Q: A couple of weeks ago Kurt Volker — former U.S. envoy to NATO and very well-known Russia hawk — was appointed as special envoy on Ukraine issues. The fact that we did not have anyone dedicated to Georgia separately, does that mean Georgia was forgotten or was not considered a priority in U.S. foreign policy?
A: The language we have seen from [Capitol] Hill supports Georgia; language from the legislation backs up a non-recognition policy by concrete budgetary mechanisms. The language that we see in supporting Georgia for its aspirations to build a stronger military, and the vice president's clear and defined speech, I could not say that Georgia is underestimated in the U.S. administration. I'd say the Georgian issue is there.
WATCH: Georgian President on U.S. Commitment to NATO
Q: President Trump's campaign raised lots of issues … he came to office with ambiguous messages regarding Russia and calling NATO an obsolete organization. Are you confident when it comes to U.S. support in deterring Russia?
A: We've seen lots of discussions around those issues and let me not get into the U.S.'s domestic policy, but let me approach those questions from a Georgian perspective. We saw the vice president applauding Georgia's aspirations toward NATO. He also applauded our commitment and desire to strengthen our military. He has applauded our engagement in global security missions. He has applauded our standards of being so close to NATO requirements. And V.P. Pence has stated that U.S.A. backs up Article 5. So, from [the] Georgian perspective, we see a new and dedicated leadership on Georgia's integration to NATO and that was said by V.P. Pence just a couple of hours ago.
Q: On this European tour of V.P. Pence, Georgia is the only non-NATO member. … With Estonia being an example of a successful transformation, and Montenegro a very recent member of the alliance, what does it mean visiting Georgia on this tour?
A: It means that the NATO policy of open doors remains, and dedication to Georgia that we will be NATO's member is clear. It has been repeated by V.P. Pence and it's an important message for us.
Q: Is this a sign of a change in U.S. cautious politics toward Russia?
A: We are happy with how things are developing. We are happy with the military cooperation we started building last year, happy for active engagement from the U.S. to build resilience and defensibility of my country, we are happy with the role this administration has politically toward Russia, we are happy with the active Russia-restraining policy of the U.S.A. Russia has clearly declared their interest in the region and other neighbors. They've called these areas, "area of special interest." I believe that a clear policy to restrain this aggressive, non-cooperative, destabilizing policy is going to be of a better good for Georgia, Ukraine [and] Europe, but Russia as well.
WATCH: Georgian President Discusses U.S. Policy on Russia
Q: Do you agree with the statement that in 2008 Bucharest, NATO Bucharest Summit, when Ukraine and Georgia were denied Membership Action Plan (MAP), that emboldened Russia's aggression in Georgia and later in Ukraine?
A: No. Same was happening here in the beginning of the '90s. There was no NATO summit, there was no NATO policy in the very beginning of '90s, since Georgia declared its independence.
Q: Just a couple of days ago, you hosted President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and you signed a declaration of establishing strategic partnership. Tell us more about that.
A: [Ukraine is] challenged with the same challenge that we were going through for 25 years. And they backed us up during these 25 years; they were supporting our independence. Now we are supporting them. We are supporting their right for a free, strong and sovereign state.
Q: Shortly after that visit, Poroshenko revoked citizenship to former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili. Was that issue discussed during your meetings?
A: No, I did not discuss that issue. I think I have my personal record with Saakashvili. I was in opposition and I was criticizing him, and I would say I would have the record, record of, of being in opposition to the previous president starting from 2003.
Q: Next year, your first term expires. Are you considering re-running for the office?
A: I, frankly, don't know. It, of course, depends on many factors and I cannot answer you today.
Q: What do you want to be your legacy?
A: Well, I think I've built a part of my legacy as a president that is able to build [a] presidency which is able to embrace all different parties beyond political party discourse and be serving only the nation. This was [a] new precedent, and I believe I've been able to make a step into that direction. That is a step into the direction of the European culture of political communication.