- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Georgia’s moment

The ambassador of the Republic of Georgia could hardly believe the success of the visit of his new president, who had one of the warmest meetings with President Bush that White House staffers could remember.

Ambassador Levan Mikeladze said Mr. Bush, in his private session with President Mikhail Saakashvili, called the January election a “victory for democracy” in Georgia, which only months earlier was gripped by demonstrations that swept the former corrupt government from power.

Mr. Mikeladze spoke to editors and reporters from The Washington Times yesterday at Blair House, the presidential guest house where Mr. Saakashvili was staying at the invitation of Mr. Bush.

The fact that he stayed at Blair House was another indication of the importance Mr. Bush places on promoting stability in Georgia, the former Soviet republic still saddled with Russian troops and still beset by two separatist conflicts.

“The election was an inspiration for the entire region,” Mr. Mikeladze said. “It was important that Georgians proved they were Europeans with European values.”

Foreign-election observers judged the presidential vote to be free and fair, unlike previous elections that kept former President Eduard Shevardnadze in power.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Saakashvili discussed “shared values” and emphasized the importance of eliminating corruption in Georgia, building a market economy and cooperating in the war on terrorism, the ambassador said.

After their White House meeting, Mr. Bush told reporters, “I’m impressed by this leader. I’m impressed by his vision. I’m impressed by his courage.”

Mr. Saakashvili said, “It’s a great honor for me and for the people of Georgia to be here in this Oval Office. … We consider ourselves a very close ally and friend of the United States.”

Mr. Saakashvili later told The Times that White House aides said the meeting “was one of the best” Mr. Bush has had with a foreign leader.

Swedish strength

Swedish Defense Minister Leni Bjorklund yesterday promoted her country’s military strength as she pledged close cooperation with the United States.

Mrs. Bjorklund met this week with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

“I have had the opportunity to discuss Swedish-American contacts and cooperation in the areas of international crisis operations and defense material,” she said at a press conference.

Sweden has about 1,000 troops deployed in peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, Africa and the Balkans.

Mrs. Bjorklund also explained plans to create a joint Nordic-British “provincial reconstruction team” in Afghanistan.

“Sweden has been actively involved in development and humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan for many years. Sweden has thousands of locally employed Afghans working in schools and health clinics,” she said.

Mrs. Bjorklund’s visit is part of a Swedish diplomatic effort over the past two months to promote contacts with Washington, Swedish Ambassador Jan Eliasson said.

Gunnar Lund, the minister for international economy and financial markets, this week met with Treasury Secretary John W. Snow. Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds met last week with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Earlier this month, Leif Pagrotsky, the minister for industry and trade, held talks with Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, and in January, two parliamentary delegations visited members of Congress.

“At the time more than 10 percent of the Swedish parliament was in the U.S. capital,” Mr. Eliasson said.

“These visits and meetings show the importance we attach to the dialogue between Sweden and the United States. Our challenge now is to stimulate visits from the United States to Sweden.”

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

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