U.S. welcomes Georgia's pivot West

Aug. 22, 2013 at 9:53 AM

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. government supports Georgia's efforts to establish a closer relationship with the European community, the Defense Department said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met in Washington with Georgian counterpart Irakli Alasania.

Georgia is the largest non-NATO contributor of forces for the international military mission in Afghanistan. Hagel thanked the visiting minister for supporting NATO efforts and welcomed Tbilisi's ambition to move closer to the West.

"Secretary Hagel expressed United States' support for Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration efforts, and highlighted its holding fair elections and continuing to consolidate democratic gains as effective measures to advance those efforts," Defense Department spokesman George Little said in a statement Wednesday.

Association talks between Georgia and the European Union are expected to begin in earnest during a November meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The EU was critical of Georgia for letting politics get in the way of its justice system. Elections last year were described by some regional observes as generally unfair and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili was criticized for appointing officials from the regime replaced by Mikheil Saakashvili following a 2003 revolution.

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