U.S. Tells Georgia To 'Play By Rules', If It Expects To "Be In Our Community'

U.S. Tells Georgia To 'Play By Rules', If It Expects To "Be In Our Community'

James O’Brien, the top U.S. diplomat in charge of Europe and Eurasia, on Friday urged Georgia to 'play by the rules' if it expects to join the Western community, TURAN's Washington correspondent reports.

“If you say you want to join a football match, you don't get to say that our side will play with 15 people, and you will play with seven or we will play with an extra ball,” the Assistant Secretary of State said during a teleconference in Washington.  "... You play by the rules of the club you are trying to join, and the point is that the actions being taken [by Georgia] are incompatible with both the pursuit of membership and actually getting to membership," he added.

Ambassador O’Brien's comments came just a day after Secretary Blinken announced that the U.S. would impose travel bans on Georgian officials “who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members. This includes individuals responsible for suppressing civil society and freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia through a campaign of violence or intimidation."

While Blinken's announcement did not name the names, it did make it clear that the U.S. would undertake a comprehensive review of U.S.-Georgia cooperation.

"As far as our additional actions," O’Brien went on to explain, "the Secretary noted that we are reviewing all the cooperation we have, and I’m not going to preview additional specific actions. I’ll make a technical point.  Under the announcement of yesterday, we do not publish a list of names.  It’s not what that statutory authority allows us to do.  But we’ve made clear the sorts of acts that are of particular concern to us, and it’s the effort to undermine democratic processes, in particular the use of violence and intimidation against those who come." 

O’Brien also reminded that the visa restrictions will not only target the officials but also their family members. "And that, again, is not a coercive tactic.  It’s a statement that if you want to be in our community, including to benefit from things like where your kids go to school, then you have to start acting like a member of that community.  And that’s all we are saying," he added.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili this week vetoed the “Russian law” targeting media that has sparked weeks of mass protests, but the ruling party has a parliamentary majority sufficient to override her veto and is widely expected to do so. The legislation would require media and NGOs to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

When asked by TURAN for reaction to Georgia's initial response to U.S. visa restrictions,  O’Brien, said, "it’s clear what the Georgian people want, it’s clear what the policy of the Georgian Government is." 

He went on to explain, "It’s unfortunate that a set of specific actions recently – particularly violence and threats to civil society and occasionally opposition politicians, a law that’s intended to stigmatize the very groups that help Georgia prepare for its European and transatlantic aspirations – that these specific actions have led us to question whether the current leadership is interested in moving forward.  So our focus is on the specific actions that they are taking and the hope that they will realize that their own people want to be sure that they continue on the path toward Europe and NATO."

The Assistant Secretary concluded: "We are at a stage where after several years of consolidation, of people recognizing that they are more safe and more prosperous if they join European and transatlantic organizations, it’s not a surprise that there are elements in some societies that feel that this forces them to change, because they’ve risen to the top at a point when those societies were not integrating. So the noise we are seeing now is a normal part of moving forward.  We want to see that it’s successful because the people in Georgia and Moldova are very clear that they want to see further integration to Europe and transatlantic operations."

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