- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

TBILISI, Georgia | A year after Georgia’s disastrous war with Russia, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. assured the small country on Thursday that the United States stands behind it in its continuing conflicts with the region’s dominant power.

But his message was tempered by tough love.

While saying Russia should withdraw its forces from two separatist Georgian regions, Mr. Biden also said Georgia should abandon any hopes of reclaiming those regions by force.

Further, he assured that the United States would stand behind Georgia’s sovereignty, but Georgia must strive to build a democratic society - six years after its peaceful Rose Revolution ousted a Soviet-era leader and brought President Mikhail Saakashvili to power.

“Your Rose Revolution will only be complete when government is transparent, accountable and fully participatory, when issues are debated inside this chamber, not only out on the streets,” Mr. Biden told federal and local officials from across the former Soviet republic.

Georgia’s opposition has held street protests since April to call for Mr. Saakashvili to step down, saying he has grown increasingly authoritarian.

Few nations are more pro-American than Georgia, and the audience listened in rapt silence for most of the speech delivered in the ornate chamber of the country’s parliament building.

Mr. Biden won several standing ovations when he criticized Russia’s actions during and after its August war with Georgia. He pledged that the Obama administration would not abandon Georgia even as it sought to mend relations with Moscow, badly damaged by the Russian-Georgian war.

“I come here on behalf of the United States with a simple, straightforward message: We, the United States, stand by you on your journey to a secure, free and democratic, and once again united, Georgia,” Mr. Biden said, bringing the audience to its feet.

After the outbreak of fighting in the separatist-held territory of South Ossetia, Russia sent tanks, troops and warplanes deep into Georgia.

Moscow later recognized the independence claims of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a separatist-held territory on the Black Sea. Only Nicaragua has followed suit.

Mr. Biden told the audience that Georgia’s best hope for reclaiming its lost territories wasn’t military action - it was building a free, prosperous society that those territories would want to join.

“It’s a sad certainty but it is true, there is no military option to reintegration,” he said.

Mr. Saakashvili welcomed Mr. Biden’s visit, saying it demonstrated the strong bonds between the two nations.

Mr. Biden also met with opposition leaders, who later praised the message he brought and his support for Georgia’s sovereignty.

Mr. Biden delivered the speech near the end of his two-day visit to Tbilisi, during which he and Mr. Saakashvili discussed economic aid and a proposal for $16 million next year for military training and reorganization, officials on both sides said.


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