TBILISI — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has met with top Georgian officials to discuss the prospects of deepening defense and security cooperation in a region where Russia has been attempting to deepen its ties.
Pompeo met on November 18 with Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, and Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani, where he also discussed the issue of strengthening democratic institutions in Georgia.
Pompeo “reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and commended the country for its significant contributions to the fight against global terrorism,” the U.S Embassy in Tbilisi said in a statement.
Pompeo’s stop in Georgia comes in the middle of a seven-nation tour that has been complicated by his refusal to acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the November 3 U.S. election coupled with President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede while fighting the outcome in the courts.
Pompeo touched off a wave of criticism on November 10 when he said during a press conference that “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”
Pompeo also met with Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II and discussed “Georgia’s important role in promoting and protecting religious freedom around the world.”
Before leaving Georgia for Israel later on November 18, Pompeo met with representatives of Georgian civil society and discussed judicial reform and the role of civil society in the country’s development.
Thousands of opposition demonstrators have taken to the streets of Tbilisi to dispute the results of October 31 polls won by the ruling party, Georgian Dream.
The opposition, led by the United National Movement (ENM) and European Georgia, plus six other parties that won parliamentary representation, claim the vote was rigged and have said they will boycott the newly elected parliament.
Georgian Dream has rejected the demand for new elections and has insisted the vote was free and fair.
Pompeo came under fire last week for his comments on the U.S. election outcome, where Trump has refused to concede despite all major media outlets designating Biden as the winner.
Trump has claimed several times, without showing any evidence, that there was electoral and voter fraud even though the Department of Homeland Security has called the vote “the most secure” in the country’s history.
While on the first stop of his trip in France on November 14, Pompeo voiced confidence in the commitment of Trump’s administration to the “constitutional frame” of the election and said the transition process would “work” and would “honor our internal and external obligations.”
While in France he met with President Emmanuel Macron, who last week joined with other European leaders in acknowledging Biden’s victory and congratulated him on his win.
The United States has said it supports Georgia’s NATO aspirations and values the contributions Georgia is already making to the alliance’s operations, including in Afghanistan.
Washington has previously condemned Russia’s 2008 invasion of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which remain occupied by Russia.
Ahead of Pompeo’s visit, the State Department said the trip also signals the strength and commitment of the United States to the South Caucasus after Russia recently brokered a truce to end fighting between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenians over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pompeo arrived in Georgia late on November 7 from Turkey. He met with the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
The visit, which included no official meetings and was limited only to Istanbul, was dismissed as “completely irrelevant” by Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.
After his visit to Israel, Pompeo will then travel on to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.