By David Bakradze 

Anniversaries are times for both celebration and reflection in the lives of individuals and nations. In 2017 the Republic of Georgia and the United States celebrate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two nations. I am optimistic about what the next 25 years will bring for this important relationship that promotes security and stability in our region and around the world. 

Allow me to take a moment to tell you a little about Georgia the country — not your fine neighboring state. In Georgia the country we are more into grapes and wine than peaches. In fact, the first wines were made more than 8,000 years ago in Georgia. In a very small country, we have packed in beautiful seaside resorts, fantastic mountains and historic sites. Our people are famous for their hospitality, and many Western media outlets, including Vogue magazine, have recognized Georgia as a top 2017 travel destination.

Since regaining independence in 1991, Georgia has transformed itself from a country ravaged by civil war into a modern, democratic and dynamic state.

We are a small, strategically located country of nearly 4 million with enormous economic potential. We believe in a free, open, and transparent business environment. According to the World Bank, we are one of the easiest countries in the world in which to do business. We have the ninth lowest tax burden in the world, according to the World Economic Forum.

During the last five years, we have attracted billions in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and unemployment has dropped. Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili is implementing an aggressive economic reform program to modernize Georgia’s economy and make it even more attractive location for U.S. investments.

Although we’ve made great progress in recent years, the U.S. has been there every step of the way as our premier strategic ally. We value this close relationship in which we are committed to standing up for our shared values and common interests. But Georgia is not a just mere recipient of U.S. assistance, but a good model of transformational effect U.S. assistant has, as well as exemplary contributor to the transatlantic security.

Georgia is a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism. Georgia has supported U.S. and NATO-led operations in Afghanistan, before that in Iraq. Georgia was the largest per capita troop-contributing nation in the ISAF coalition, with almost 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan’s dangerous southern region. Today, Georgia maintains 870 troops in Afghanistan as part of “Resolute Support Mission.” We are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with American soldiers, defending international security in different parts of the world. 

We also cherish our strong ties to the state of South Carolina. Georgia enjoys a longstanding partnership with The Citadel that allows Georgian soldiers to pursue their undergraduate studies there. It was honor for Georgia to receive the Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s 2016 Ally of Freedom Award at its annual celebration in Columbia, S.C. This marked the first time a non-NATO member received this prestigious award. 

At this moment, the prospect for future cooperation between our two nations could not be brighter. Prime Minister Kvirikashvili just finished a successful visit to Washington, D.C., where he met with President Trump, Vice President Pence, cabinet members and Congressional leaders. During those meetings, the Trump Administration reaffirmed America’s support for Georgia’s territorial integrity (20 percent of our territory has been occupied by Russia since 2008) and our Euro-Atlantic integration aspirations. 

Given that we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our bilateral diplomatic relationship this year, it was an honor to host our dear friend, Senator Lindsay Graham, in Georgia on New Year’s Day. The visit of Sen. Graham along with Sen. McCain and Sen. Klobuchar sent a strong message about the strategic importance of Georgia as a key U.S. ally in a critical region. 

I had the unique privilege of accompanying the senators on their visits to the occupation line, a new technology park to promote innovation and scientific research and the NATO-Georgia Joint Training Center. Sen. Graham’s remarks that he was impressed with Georgian government’s reform agenda was heartening to hear as we move forward on our path toward European and Euro-Atlantic integration. 

I also saw first-hand how Senator Graham’s reflections about the importance of fostering a free market that values innovation inspired a group of young Georgian entrepreneurs to dream big and give back to their country. We are extremely grateful to count Sen. Graham as a good friend of Georgia.

In addition to economic and security cooperation, cultural exchange is another important pillar of the U.S.-Georgian bilateral relationship. The world acclaimed Tbilisi-based Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theatre is presenting play “Ramona” at Spoleto Festival from May 31st to June 5th. I look forward to traveling to Charleston in early June to host a special reception in honor of the Gabriadze Theatre and in celebration of 25 years of the U.S.-Georgia strategic partnership. During my trip, I will also be meeting with private and public sector leaders to discuss how we can expand new avenues of cooperation between my country and S.C.

As the Georgian embassy in the U.S. ramps up its public diplomacy efforts outside of Washington, D.C., you may expect to see more of our country, Georgia. This is undoubtedly a good thing, as we seek to reciprocate for the tremendous impact the U.S. has had in Georgia in the first 25 years of our diplomatic relations. 

I am confident the next 25 years of diplomatic relations will bring even greater things for both our nations and that our cooperation will continue to serve as a force for good around the world.

 

David Bakradze is the Republic of Georgia’s ambassador to the United States.

 

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