- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

Rebuilding Georgia

The new president of Georgia is coming to Washington next week to explain his plans for the complete reconstruction of the notoriously corrupt former Soviet republic that overthrew its former leader in a popular uprising last year, according to the Georgian ambassador.

Ambassador Levan Mikeladze said President Mikhail Saakashvili will outline his goals when he meets President Bush on Wednesday.

“He would like to build strong relations with the current administration,” Mr. Mikeladze said. “He would like to rebuild confidence in the new Georgian government as a strong, reliable and stable partner that can act as a beacon of democratic good governance in the region.”

Mr. Saakashvili also wants to improve Georgia’s reputation and attract U.S. government aid and private investment.

“He wants … Georgia to be understood as a nation with a deep and profound universal commitment to the values of democracy, liberty and respect for private property,” the ambassador said.

Mr. Saakashvili wants to “jump-start [Georgia’s] economy, reverse years of decline through institutional changes and economic reform, eliminate corruption in its most visible forms and, at the institutional level, promote regional domestic stability, deepen its commitment to democracy and participate in the global fight against terrorism,” the ambassador added.

The president also will discuss his country’s relations with Russia, which maintains troops on Georgian soil and considers the nation within its sphere of influence. He also will update Mr. Bush on efforts to deal with separatist movements in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mr. Saakashvili, a lawyer who graduated from Columbia University, led the November protests that forced the resignation of then President Eduard Shevardnadze, who was blamed for fraudulent parliamentary elections.

Mr. Saakashvili, 36, served as justice minister under Mr. Shevardnadze in 2000 but resigned two years later, after denouncing cronyism and corruption in the Georgian Cabinet.

On his visit, which begins Monday, Mr. Saakashvili will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Tedo Japaridze, Defense Minister Gela Bejuashvili, Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze, Finance Minister Zurab Noghaideli and Education Minister Alexander Lomaia.

Oil in Africa

The United States yesterday awarded $800,000 in grants to the West African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe, where a potential oil boom is expected in the Gulf of Guinea.

U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Moorefield and Sao Tome Public Works Minister Antonio Quintas do Espirito Santo signed the agreement to study the possibility of developing a deep-water port and expanding the country’s tiny airport. Mr. Moorefield also is ambassador to Gabon, where the U.S. Embassy serves both countries.

Both projects would help with the expected discovery of huge deposits of oil. Exxon Mobil Corp. and Shell Oil Co. hope to produce 1 million barrels of oil a day in 10 years.

The grant awarded by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency provides $450,000 for the port study and $350,000 for the airport. The Sao Tome government agreed to select qualified American firms after competitive bidding.

The Gulf of Guinea supplies the United States with 15 percent of its oil, which is expected to increase to 25 percent by 2015.

“Currently the lack of a deep-water port and the limited capacity of the airport hinder the country’s economic growth and development,” the agency said in announcing the grants.

Oceangoing ships must anchor about a mile offshore, while smaller vessels are limited to a single pier at the country’s shallow port. The airport is “not adequate by international standards and will not accommodate future growth,” the agency said.

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

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