Washington (AFP) July 23, 2009
The United States does not exclude possibly rearming Georgia following its humiliating defeat to Russia a year ago, even at the cost of angering Moscow, a State Department spokesman said Thursday.
"Georgia is on a path that the United States supports toward NATO membership," reminded Philip Crowley when asked about Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's calls for US military aid.
"Clearly, you know, a fundamental tenet of NATO membership is to have a military that meets NATO standards and would add to the capability of the alliance," the spokesman added, before citing the "defense requirements" of the former Soviet Union republic.
In interviews with The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post this week on the eve of US Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Georgia, Saakashvili asked for anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons from the United States in order to defend Georgia against a possible Russian attack.
As Biden met Saakashvili in Tbilisi Thursday, a senior Russian diplomat warned that Moscow would not permit Georgia to re-arm following a fierce, five-day war last August in which much of its military was destroyed.
"We will continue to prevent the re-arming of Saakashvili's regime and are taking concrete measures against this," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said in an interview with the state news agency ITAR-TASS.
Biden acknowledged the United States was working on "maintaining" the Georgian military but said these efforts were limited to "planning, training, organization" -- not supply of weapons.
The vice president also defended Georgia's territorial integrity and its bid to join the North Atlantic alliance.
"The vice president outlined today not only the importance of our relationship with Georgia, our willingness to help Georgia with its defensive requirements and a commitment that we will continue to work closely with the government going forward," Crowley explained.
When asked if that commitment could affect relations with Russia, with which President Barack Obama has vowed to "reset" frozen ties, Crowley told reporters that Washington has refused to recognize any Russian sphere of influence.
"I think we have made clear to Russia that ultimately decisions like this rest with the people of Georgia," he said. "We will continue to have, I'm sure, conversations with Russia on these issues."
Georgian officials said US supply of arms to Georgia was not specifically discussed in the meetings with Biden but was also not beyond the realm of possibility.
"The US-Georgia strategic partnership charter envisages, among other issues, that the United States will help Georgia to further develop its defense capabilities," parliamentary speaker David Bakradze told AFP.
Tbilisi and Washington signed a strategic partnership agreement in January that includes a plan to train and equip Georgian forces to boost their capabilities to eventually operate with NATO troops.
The agreement, signed by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and her Georgian counterpart Grigol Vashadze, amounted to a declaration of intent that did not formally commit the incoming Obama administration.
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