2:59 P.M. EST
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I want to welcome President Saakashvili and his delegation here, and it’s a wonderful occasion to have him here as we’ll be celebrating this year 20 years of independence for Georgia and the eighth anniversary of the Rose Revolution.
I think Georgia should be extraordinarily proud of the progress that is made in building a sovereign and democratic country. And one of the first things that I did was express my appreciation for the institution-building that’s been taking place in Russia -- in Georgia -- the importance of making sure that minorities are respected; the importance of a police and system of rule of law that is being observed -- the kinds of institution-building that is going to make an enormous difference in the future of not just this generation of Georgians but future generations of Georgians.
And so I want to express my appreciation for the work that’s been done in the past, but also anticipating fair and free elections here; the formal transfer of power that will be taking place in Georgia, which I think will solidify many of these reforms that have already taken place.
We discussed how we can continue to strengthen the strong bilateral relationship between our two countries. Part of this is economic. Obviously, Georgia has made strides in creating a effective free market system and more progress needs to be made. The United States wants to help in that progress.
And so one of the most important things that we’re doing in addition to things like the MCC and OPIC loans is also what we’ve agreed to is a high-level dialogue between our two countries about how we can continue to strengthen trade relations between our two countries, including the possibility of a free trade agreement. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done and there are going to be a lot of options that are going to be explored. The key point, though, is we think it’s a win-win for the United States and for Georgia as we continue to find opportunities for businesses to invest in Georgia, for us to be able to sell Georgia our goods and services, and Georgia to be able to sell theirs as well.
On defense and security, I expressed my gratitude to the President for the extraordinary contributions that have been made by the Georgian military in Afghanistan. They have been one of the most dedicated contributors outside of NATO to the ISAF effort, and in fact have taken on some significant casualties as a consequence of those efforts.
We have talked about how we will continue to strengthen our defense cooperation, and there are a wide range of areas where we are working together. And I reaffirmed to the President and assured him that the United States will continue to support Georgia’s aspirations to ultimately become a member of NATO.
Finally, I wanted to say to the President that we appreciate the model of democracy and transparency that they’ve been setting not just for their own country but also for the region as a whole. And we think that with continued progress over the next several years that a lot of countries will say to themselves that if Georgia can perform these transformations, then we can as well. They’ve been a responsible player on the world scene and in multilateral fora.
And so under the President’s leadership, I think that they’ve made enormous strides. And we will continue to look for opportunities to strengthen what is already a very strong bilateral relationship.
So welcome, Mr. President. Thank you so much for being here.
PRESIDENT SAAKASHVILI: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Well, Mr. President, I’m incredibly honored to be back in the Oval Office. And I can tell you we are incredibly grateful as a nation for continued support and strong basically cooperation that we’ll be getting from your administration and from the United States of America at every level. And for my country’s independence, for its future, for the future of our democracy, for the future of our region, that has been absolutely decisive and key in all different directions.
Obviously, there’s a very good understanding at a number of levels. We are grateful for your support for our NATO aspirations. We are very grateful for elevating our defense cooperation further and talking about Georgia’s self-defense capabilities and developing it, because that’s also of course an important message back to my nation.
It’s very important that you mentioned, obviously, the prospect of a free trade agreement with Georgia, because that’s going to attract lots of additional activity to my country, and basically helping our nation-building process.
Thank you again for complimenting us on our reforms. Obviously, the reform process is never over, but these reforms would not have happened without strong commitment and support and advice from your administration and from the United States and your people on the ground. We deeply appreciate all this.
Obviously, next -- this year we have parliamentary elections which will mark also bringing in another political system, constitution system with more parliamentary government. And as you rightly mentioned, there is -- well, there will be --next year a new President will be elected in Georgia. And that’s also important because that’s also -- will move our democracy forward and will generally get much more to a diversified and pluralistic political scene.
And obviously, I will continue to cooperate with you in all these directions that these gains get solidified, irreversible. And nothing can take Georgia away from this track of progress. Nothing can bring us back to a less democratic, corrupt, retrograde political system or political actors.
And obviously, this was very, very -- from my point of view, I’ll be -- again, my personal gratitude. I’ll be leaving this office very happy because we basically got what we wanted to get.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Congratulations. Thank you.
PRESIDENT SAAKASHVILI: Thank you.
3:07 P.M. EST