U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world will shortly accept the status-neutral travel document for any resident from Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, who chooses to use them for travel or study in the United States.
This was announced by visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after talks with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
This would be a strong step toward reconciliation that supports a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict, she said at a joint press conference with Saakashvili in the Georgian city of Batumi on Tuesday.
The two leaders discussed ways Georgia can reach out to the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, including providing status-neutral travel documents and identification cards.
Georgia, which is actively seeking NATO membership, has been getting staunch support from the West during and after the brief war in August, 2008 that led to Russia recognizing the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
But most of the world, including the United States, do not recognize these erstwhile Georgian provinces, making its citizens' travel to those countries difficult.
The unresolved conflict with Georgia is a burden for the future development of these tiny Caucasus republics, which highly depend on Russian support and currency.
"Let me also say, as both President Obama and I have repeated many times before, the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders," Clinton told reporters.
She said a new High-Level Trade and Investment Dialogue launched last week "will explore a range of mechanisms to continue strengthening trade relations between our countries, including the possibility of a free trade agreement between Georgia and the United States, an updated investment agreement, and other measures that could facilitate trade and investments."
Washington continues to work closely with Georgia both bilaterally and through the NATO-Georgia Commission to support the goals that Georgia has set for itself in its annual national program. "And we remain committed to supporting Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we strongly support the principle that all countries, including Georgia, should be free to choose their own alliances, including their security alliances," Clinton said.
Saakashvili vowed that his government was committed to have free and fair parliamentary elections this October.
Earlier, addressing the third meeting of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission in Batumi, Clinton said Washington rejected Russia's occupation and militarization of Georgian territory, and called on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including withdrawal of its forces to pre-conflict positions and free access for humanitarian assistance.
Being a major transit corridor for energy supplies to Europe and at crossroads close to the Middle East, Afghanistan, and energy-rich Central Asia, Georgia is strategically important for the U.S. and Russia.
It is also a key link in the only energy export route from Central Asia westwards that does not pass through Russian territory.
by RTT Staff Writer
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