Georgia - Foreign policy

Shevardnadze has sought good relations with both East and West in pursuit of security and reform aid, stating in April 2000 that "our main principle is state pragmatism….We are prepared to cooperate with all countries that help us resolve several fundamental problems…including our most important, burning issue, the settlement of the conflict in Abkhazia." Although Shevardnadze has attempted to maintain working political, economic, and security ties with Russia, he seeks close ties with the West and international organizations to maximize Georgia's independence. Relations with Russia deteriorated in late 1999 after it launched a new military campaign in its breakaway Chechnya region, which borders Georgia. Some fighting and refugees have spilled over Georgia's borders, and Russia has accused Georgia of aiding and abetting Chechen "terrorism." Russia's objectives toward Georgia include retaining some political, military, and economic influence in the South Caucasus region though its policies sometime seem contradictory and of limited success.

Among its neighbors, Georgia has good relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan, though it has raised concerns about human rights conditions of ethnic Georgians residing in Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan and Armenia have raised concerns about ethnic Azeris and Armenians in Georgia. Georgia has an ongoing interest in ties with about one million Georgians residing in Turkey and about 50,000 Georgians residing in Iran.

Shevardnadze assiduously pursued membership in the Council of Europe (CE) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) as indicators of Georgia's progress in implementing Western-style reforms, resulting in admission to the CE in April 1999 and the WTO in October 1999. In April 2000, Shevardnadze hailed the support from the West, stating, "I can say without exaggeration that if it had not been for this support, including the financial and material support, we would not have survived and we would not have been able to build the independent Georgian state….The more we strengthen Georgian democracy, the more intensive the aid and support that we are receiving will become." His presidential election manifesto called for Georgia to seek entry into North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by 2005. In late 2002, Shevardnadze told a press conference that Georgia would need several more years before it could meet the requirements for membership in the organization.

In recent years, Georgia has received substantial U.S. financial assistance targeted for support of Georgia's economic and political reform programs, with emphasis on institution building. In 2002, Shevardnadze showed full support for the U.S.-initiated War on Terror by welcoming a U.S. mission to train and equip the Georgian military for the possibility of actions there. Shevardnadze, along with U.S. president George W. Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin, acknowledges the possibility that Arab terrorists connected to al-Qaeda are finding haven in border regions of Georgia. Notably, the Pankisi Gorge, a broad valley on the northern border with Russia's Chechen republic, is well-known for illegal activity. International experts believe there may be al-Qaeda members operating in the Pankisi Gorge region. (Al-Qaeda has been held responsible for the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States that targeted the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the World Trade Center, New York, an action that initiated the War on Terror.) The United States continues to encourage the Russian government to accept and respect Georgian sovereignty over the region.

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