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3/4/04 - GEORGIAN PRESIDENT VISITS U.S. - 2004-03-04

The democratically elected president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, met recently with President George Bush at the White House.

Mr. Bush praised the bloodless “rose revolution” that led to the resignation of Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze in November 2003:

“Georgia transitioned to a new government in an inspiring way. The President and I discussed the ramifications of the ‘rose revolution’ around other parts of the world. The possibility of people taking charge of their own lives and transforming society in a peaceful way is a powerful example to people around the world who long for freedom and long for honest government.”

President Saakashvili thanked the U.S. for its support during Georgia’s “rose revolution.” “The U.S. helped us when we needed it most,” he said, “and [we] would like people, other people in Europe, never [to] forget that. But our cooperation is not only about security, it’s not only about [the] economy, primarily it’s about our shared values. And we are. . .[a] proud part of [the] anti-terrorist coalition. We have forces in Iraq.”

Since winning election in January, President Saakashvili has promised to help Georgia become prosperous and democratic. But many challenges face the new president. The national treasury is empty, the capital is crowded with refugees, wages are months overdue, and corruption is pervasive. President Bush urged Mr. Saakashvili to press ahead with fighting corruption and working for a system based upon integrity and human rights.

Mr. Saakashvili also said he will work to improve relations between Georgia and Russia. President Bush said he expects Russia to honor the commitment it made in 1999 to withdraw its military forces and equipment from Georgia.

President Saakashvili said that building democracy and a free enterprise system is his top priority for Georgia. The U.S. and others will help this effort to the extent they can. But whether it succeeds will really depend on the people of Georgia.