U.S.: We have no arms embargo against Georgia
When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Tbilisi tomorrow, will the question of a "de facto arms embargo" against Georgia be part of the discussions? Ahead of her trip, the U.S.'s top diplomat for Europe, Philip Gordon, had a press conference and was asked if the U.S. was allowing Georgia to buy weapons from U.S. manufacturers:
QUESTION: On Russia, a follow-up – every now and again, Georgian officials complain that they are unable to use M-4 rifles and get resupplied for their contingent in Afghanistan. Will the issue of the arms embargo come up in the talks with the Secretary and specifically if they can get access to these Humvees and M-4s that they complain about every now and again to reporters like myself?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Let me first clarify that we don’t have an arms embargo on Georgia. We are pursuing security cooperation with Georgia. Georgia is making a very significant contribution in Afghanistan, which we value. The Georgians, in Afghanistan, have performed admirably. And we very much appreciate their support. And we are helping them with training for that mission. So we have security cooperation with Georgia. And as I’ve noted, Georgia’s a sovereign, independent country. We don’t have an embargo on Georgia. We’ve said that all sovereign, independent countries in Europe and elsewhere have the right to self-defense and to seek the alliances of their choosing without a third party having a veto over it.
QUESTION: What about the M-4s?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t have an answer for you on the specific – you can check with the –
QUESTION: I mean, does – can the U.S. sell them the M-4s?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t have an answer on M-4s. You can talk – I’m sure I can get you one or you can check with the Pentagon. But as I said, there’s no arms embargo on Georgia.
QUESTION: But it is the case that the United States has not fulfilled any of Georgia’s requests for arms over the last couple of years.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Over the last couple of years, what we’ve been focused – there was a war in Georgia in the summer of 2008. And we have been focused, in the last couple of years, in reducing tensions, trying to get more transparency, trying to get the Russians to, in the first place, withdraw their forces to where they were before the conflict; in the second place, to respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and not have any troops in Georgia at all.
That’s what this Geneva process is about: to minimize tension, set up mechanisms, to avoid the types of issues that can spill over into conflict. We have engaged very closely with our friends in Georgia to develop their democracy and prosperity because we believe that the real long-term situation – solution in Georgia is not going to be a military one based on the sale of this or that military equipment. There’s not a military fix to this problem. It is, through Georgia, becoming a stronger democracy, a more prosperous country, so that the residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia agree that they should be part of that unified Georgia. That is what our focus has been on. That’s what this trip will focus on, and we don’t think that arms sales and military equipment is the path to the situation in Georgia that we’re trying to get to.
One important point: as the questioner mentioned, the U.S. hasn't sold any arms to Georgia over the past two years, i.e., ever since the war over South Ossetia, i.e. since during the Bush administration, i.e. long before the "reset" with Russia which Georgian officials have claimed is the reason for the "embargo."
That said, just because there isn't an embargo per se, as Gordon says, it doesn't mean there isn't some sort of informal policy whereby the U.S. is blocking approval of sales to Georgia. I am looking into it...
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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