Interview with the US Charge d'Affairs Elizabeth Rood
07 November, 2019
Interview with the US Charge d'Affairs Elizabeth Rood
Ministry of Defence of Georgia hosts the 13th annual Georgia Defence and Security Conference (GDSC) 2019 in Batumi, Hotel Hilton. In the interview with Georgian Journal, held on the sidelines of GDSC, Charge d'Affairs, Elizabeth Rood spoke about the new U.S. nominee for Ambassador to Georgia Kelly C. Degnan, about the period she was working in Georgia and about other topics.

Please tell us about Kelly Degnan, the candidate for the new U.S. Ambassador to Georgia

Well, the United States Embassy
here in Georgia is very pleased that we have a nominee for the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Kelly Degnan. Kelly Degnan is a very distinguished diplomat I have known for 26 years, since we both entered the Foreign Service together. She has a great deal of experience that is going to serve her well in strengthening U.S. - Georgian relations. She has a great deal of experience, especially in the political-military field, experience in NATO leadership, in Washington leadership positions, in other European posts, and experience in this region, serving in Turkey. And as she made very clear in her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she will come here, if and when confirmed by the Senate, fully committed to do everything possible to strengthen the U.S. - Georgia relationship in all areas of our strategic partnership charter.

How would you assess and sum up the period you have worked here in Georgia?

I have had a wonderful experience so far in Georgia and I have worked very hard to strengthen the U.S. - Georgia relationship myself. I arrived in late July of 2017, and exactly one week later, Vice President Pence came. That was a very important landmark in the U.S. - Georgia relationship, and we heard from Vice President Pence very, very strong reaffirmation of the U.S.’s commitment to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. And that was also at the same time that we had our largest ever Noble Partner military exercise. I have participated in a number of our recurring military exercises that are so important in building Georgia's interoperability with U.S. and NATO forces and preparing Georgia for future NATO membership. We launched in May of last year the Georgia Defence Readiness Program, which is designed to strengthen Georgia's ability to defend its own territory, as well. I am also very pleased that during the time I have been here, the United States has sold the Javelin anti-tank guided missile system to Georgia, which also strengthens Georgia's self defence capabilities. We, of course, have continued our close partnership with Georgia, as Georgia participates in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, and we continue a very strong program of ship visits, aimed at increasing security in the Black Sea region, and of course, the Georgia Defence and Security Conference that is going on right now, happens every year and is a great chance for the United States and all of Georgia's partners to express and affirm their support for Georgia's Western integration, especially in the military security field.

We have done a great deal in my time in the economic and business fields, as well. Just a few examples: we have recently announced a new loans from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) that will expand the PACE terminal at the port of Poti, that will enable Liberty Bank to expand its network of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), so more people in the far regions have access to banking services; we have launched a new USAID economic growth program to help especially vulnerable populations in Georgia; we have done a lot to support entrepreneurship for young Georgians to start new businesses; and something that I think was especially important to me, was going to Zugdidi earlier this year, where we were able to join with the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture and The Georgian Farmers' Association in celebrating a successful and abundant hazelnut harvest, thanks to the hard work we did together to help combat the brown marmorated sting bug, and that is support that we are going to continue.

I am very proud of what we have done in education front. For example, in my time here, we have completed Georgia's second Millennium Challenge Compact, which has greatly increased the ability of Georgian schools and universities to provide a world-class science, technology, engineering and math education to Georgia's students. The showcase of that is the San Diego State University program here in Georgia at three campuses, and I have had the honor to attend convocations and the graduation of the first class of students, who are going to be so well prepared to contribute to Georgia's economic growth in the future. We have also renovated more than 90 schools across Georgia and I have participated in many regions, all around Georgia, in the ribbon cuttings of these new schools and to see the excitement of the students and the teachers to have the opportunity to study in a more comfortable and better equipped environment is wonderful. And we will soon be launching a new USAID program that is going to support the Georgian government in its ambitious new program of educational reform, and all of that is going to contribute to Georgia's sustainable economic growth and prosperity.

And the last thing I would like to mention is my personal enthusiasm for promoting tourism and outdoor recreation in Georgia. I have had such a wonderful time with my outdoor adventurers hiking from Omalo to Shatili, from Mestia to Ushguli, climbing Kazbegi, climing up the Black Rock Lakes in Lagodekhi, and from Roshka to Juta, so many different extended hikes and day hikes I have done, as well as skiing in Gudauri and Bakuriani, and in that connection, I am very happy that we have launched a new program implemented by our National Parks' Service that is going to help with the management of Georgia's National Parks and Protected Areas. And so it has been wonderful to me to support not only #SpendYourSummerInGeorgia but now #SpendAllFourSeasonsinGeorgia.

There is an initiative to create a position for the special U.S. representative for occupied territories of Georgia. What do you think of this initiative?

Well, there certainly is a U.S. representative in Georgia, for the moment, it is me as Charge d'Affaires, and when our incoming Ambassador is confirmed and arrives, of course, she will be the President of the United States's personal representative to advance the U.S. - Georgia relations. When it comes to negotiations involving Georgia's occupied territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, we also have a special senior advisor in the Department of State, Andrew Schofer, who is the head of our delegation to the Geneva International Discussions and works very closely with the government of Georgia to address the security and humanitarian aspects of the conflicts.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry tries to have different programs through which Georgian citizens can legally work in different countries. Do you think these kinds of negotiations may start with the U.S.?

There already are ways for Georgians to work legally in the United States. There are categories of visas that allow for legal work in the U.S. and I urge Georgians to learn about those opportunities if they are interested in working in the United States.

And the last question is regarding the Anaklia Deep Sea Port project, do you think that the Georgian government really wants to fulfill this project taking into consideration the latest developments?

The United States continues to support the Anaklia Port Project. It is important for Georgia's economic development, and we think that it is also very important that United States investment be a part of that project. That is why we have been very supportive of the Anaklia Development Consortium in its work to put together all of the necessary financial pieces to make the project a success. And I certainly can point to consistent statements by the government of Georgia that they are also committed to see this project successfully completed.

Eka Abashidze

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