- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Georgia report card

Georgia’s new foreign minister is in Washington reporting on the progress the former Soviet republic has made in the seven months since mass protests led to a peaceful revolution that overthrew the corrupt central government.

“In November, we were a failing state without any economy, without any future and soaked in corruption,” Salome Zurabishvili said in an interview yesterday.

Now Georgia is preparing to take the first steps toward joining the European Union and NATO. The International Monetary Fund expressed its confidence in the new government by rescheduling about $100 billion in debt.

Mass protests this spring also forced out local strongman Aslan Abashidze, who ran the isolated region of Adzharia as a personal fiefdom for more than a decade.

“We’ve managed to demonstrate to the outside world and to ourselves that we can carry out two revolutions without violence in a democratic environment,” Mrs. Zurabishvili said.

The country still faces rebellious conditions in the provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and diplomatic pressure from Russia, which has long wanted to maintain influence in Georgia because of its strategic location on the Black Sea.

Mrs. Zurabishvili, on her first Washington visit as foreign minister, met Tuesday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who congratulated her on Georgia’s political and economic reforms.

“Secretary Powell has been one of major supporters. He’s very happy with the progress we’ve made,” she said.

Mrs. Zurabishvili added that Georgians deeply appreciate the U.S. backing since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

“Georgians realize we would not be where we are today without U.S. support for Georgian independence,” she said.

As part of its appreciation, Georgia is supporting the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq with 250 troops and plans to double that number this month.

Yesterday Mrs. Zurabishvili addressed the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and met Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, and other congressional leaders. Today she meets with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and gives a talk at the Brookings Institution.

Mrs. Zurabishvili credited the reform government of 36-year-old President Mikhail Saakashvili with inspiring a new sense of self-confidence in the Caucasus nation of 5 million people. Mr. Saakashvili replaced Eduard Shevardnadze, who was forced from office over charges of massive corruption and rigged elections. The government was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy before the November revolution.

Mr. Saakashvili, who was elected in January, recruited Georgians untouched by corruption even if he had to go outside the country.

Mrs. Zurabishvili, whose family migrated to France early in the 20th century, was the French ambassador to Georgia when Mr. Saakashvili asked her to serve as foreign minister.

Mr. Saakashvili, who studied law at Columbia and George Washington universities and worked for a New York law firm, recruited his defense minister from a New York law firm and persuaded an ethnic Georgian businessman to leave his lucrative automotive business in Russia to serve as economic minister.

Mrs. Zurabishvili, who now holds dual French and Georgian citizenship, said the opportunity to help rebuild her ancestral homeland was irresistible.

“It’s absolutely fascinating,” she said. “I decided to take the risk because this is something of a last chance for Georgia.”

Central Asia trade

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick signed an agreement this week with Asian nations that is designed to promote trade with the United States.

The ambassadors of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan joined him Tuesday at the signing ceremony for the agreement that also creates a U.S.-Central Asia trade council.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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