U.S.: Free Elections A "Litmus Test" For Georgia NATO Accession
The U.S. sees Georgia's upcoming elections as a "litmus test" for its entry into NATO, the presumed next ambassador to Tbilisi said. The nominee for ambassador, Richard Norland, testified at his confirmation hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, and used the phrase "litmus test" twice, according to a report by Civil.ge:
“Given Georgia’s interests and Georgia’s aspirations to NATO membership and our support for those aspirations, how these elections are conducted is a very important litmus test and we’ll be watching carefully to make sure that the way these elections unfold are in keeping in NATO standards.”
“The Europe and the United States are closely watching the conduct of these elections to determine whether they meet the criteria that are expected of a NATO-member country,” Norland said...
“I think Georgian officials are beginning to understand, that in fact they are being watched, that this is being monitored closely and that it is a litmus test for their membership to NATO. We hope that they will take the right steps,” Norland said.
He had pretty strong words on the current state of political freedom in Tbilisi:
“There are reports of harassment of opposition candidates that trouble us deeply,” Norland said.
He said that the role of the Georgian state audit agency “Chamber of Control in party financing is drawing a lot of concern in Georgia and in the international community.”
“Our mission [in Tbilisi] is raising these concerns publicly and privately with the Georgian government and if confirmed [as ambassador to Georgia] it will be my role to continue monitor very carefully Georgia’s observance of principles that we hold dear. This would be a central priority for my mission. The Unites States already spends millions of dollars in assistance to promote civil society, rule of law and democracy in Georgia and we need to be careful stewards to make sure that we are getting results we are looking for,” Norland said.
Norland also reiterated that there would be some kind of reward for Georgia at the upcoming NATO summit:
He said that “serious efforts” were being undertaken by the U.S. administration to use upcoming NATO summit in Chicago “to signal acknowledgment for Georgia’s progress in these areas and to work with the Allies to develop a consensus on the next steps forward.”
What he didn't seem to say is that fair elections would be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to get into NATO. Even if fair elections led the U.S. to more actively push for NATO membership for Georgia, many European NATO allies would still be wary of allowing Georgian accession. Still, Norland's message is sure to be heard loud and clear in Tbilisi. The current ambassador publicly criticized the government's treatment of oppositionlast week, but this seems to be the first public linking of free elections with NATO membership, President Mikheil Saakashvili's most cherished goal. It will be interesting to see if the government's behavior changes as a result of this warning.