US takes wait-and-see approach to Georgia's Ivanishvili
Although US supporter President Saakashvili lost Georgia's parliamentary elections, the US says that the peaceful electoral transition was a good start for Georgian democracy-building.
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Ivanishvili maintains that Saakashvili’s confrontational approach toward Russia may have made some friends among Washington neoconservatives, but it has been a disaster for Georgia.Skip to next paragraph
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While understanding the challenge Russia poses as its neighbor, Ivanishvili believes that Georgia could best benefit itself and the West by striving to be a bridge in the region, not the “new Berlin Wall” as Saakashvili once called it.
“Obama and Medvedev met [in June 2010] and said the only thing they didn’t agree on was Georgia. Misha took that as a foreign policy victory. We have the opposite position. It would be in Georgia’s interest to have the US and Russia agree on Georgia,” Japaridze explains.
When President Obama said the US and Georgia were exploring a free trade agreement at a White House meeting in Jan. 2012, both Ivanishvili and Saakashvili agreed it would be enormously important for Georgia. The difference, Ivanishvili said, was that only his administration would be capable of making free trade a reality.
David Onoprishvili, a former finance minister who will chair Parliament’s budget finance committee for the Georgian Dream, says Saakashvili’s policy was actually undermining Georgia's ability to benefit from a free trade agreement.
“They removed antimonopoly regulations, consumer rights legislation, and food quality laws,” Mr. Onoprishvili says. “But if the idea of free trade is to bring Georgian products to the US market, you have to improve Georgian products to make them competitive.”
Since coming to power in 2004, the Saakashvili administration has been considered a darling of George W. Bush’s neoconservative team. But it was Bill Clinton who began supporting Georgia with aid packages when Eduard Shevardnadze came to power in 1990s. Together, they set up the framework for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, linking Caspian oil to Turkey. And the State Department is quick to remind that Georgia is a bipartisan project: The $1 billion of US aid after Georgia's 2008 war with Russia was proposed by Vice President Joe Biden, for instance.
Sam Patten, a political consultant who has worked for both Saakashvili and Georgian Dream leader Irakli Alasania, says Georgia has a special relationship with the US that is unlikely to change regardless of who is in power. Saakashvili, he says, was good at strengthening Georgia’s ties with Washington, but Washington usually does a poor job of picking winners.
“What happened on Oct. 1 was a big step forward for democracy in Georgia and, by example, for the region,” he says. “That's what matters most. Everything else is just parlor talk.”