U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 27, 2002


INDEX:


GEORGIA

1 Georgia’s Release of Diplomat Jailed for Drunk Driving Accident
6 U.S. Train and Equip Program for the Georgian Military
7 Presence of “Foreign Fighters” in Georgia


TRANSCRIPT:

...


QUESTION:...   Have you seen the story about Mr. Makharadze in Georgia, who is being let out after serving about half of the term?

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen that particular story. That would be something I'd have to check on for you.

QUESTION: And can I go back to Georgia? To the diplomacy aspect of the US -- the Pentagon's activities there? Foreign Minister Ivanov seems to be less delighted by this than he was by your activities in Central Asia. Are we to take it that a kind of Olympic chill has set in in your relationship? Or have you actually coordinated this with Russia, and they're secretly quite happy about it?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think I'll take option three, none of the above.

Let me first try to explain what we are doing in Georgia. And really, what needs to be remembered is the context of this. We have been working cooperatively with Georgia over the past several years to enhance the country's counterterrorism and counterinsurgency capabilities. The US and the Georgian government have enjoyed a strong security assistance relationship for more than five years. We are now working on a train-and-equip assistance program for the Georgian Ministry of Defense and other security forces. The program will assist Georgia in developing the capability to control its own borders, and to conduct limited counterinsurgency operations against terrorist elements.

In doing this, we are working for the stability and the security of the Caucasus. We believe that Georgia's ability to handle these types of problems on its own is also in Russia's interest. And we've kept Moscow apprised of our intentions and our plans for the train-and-equip program in Georgia, and we would expect to continue to do so.

QUESTION: Will you be trying to convince them, since they clearly don't believe you so far?

MR. BOUCHER: We have often discussed Georgia with the Russians. We believe that our cooperation with Georgia contributes to the overall stability of the region, and therefore is in the interests of everybody in the region, as well as the Russians. To the extent that we can improve the ability of Georgia's own security forces, military, border forces to control their borders and their territory, we can cut down on the movement of fighters, the movement of foreign fighters through this region. And that's in everybody's interests, including Russia's. And so we'll continue to do these programs, first of all, because we do believe that to the extent we can help the Georgians, we can help everybody in the region. And second of all, we'll continue to be transparent and open in terms of explaining it to the Russians.

QUESTION: Well, have you promised, then, that there will not be anything beyond a train-and-equip program? That you will not send troops there of your own?

MR. BOUCHER: I think various Pentagon spokesmen have already made clear this morning that we have not talked about sending US troops into combat there, and don't plan on that.

QUESTION: Have you told that to the Russians?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it's been quite clear, but I have to assume so. I think this is the way to put it.

QUESTION: Was there any consultation with the Russians regarding the Caucasus language broadcasts?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if it's come up. I think the Russians have made clear their view that they don't want us to do it, but I don't remember in what context.

QUESTION: Back to Georgia. Shevardnadze used to always deny that there were Chechen fighters or al-Qaida fighters in his territory. Was he the one who initiated, who wanted this joint training program? Or did the US encourage him to accept it?

MR. BOUCHER: We have been working with the Georgians on these kind of things for a long, long time. And I know from the Secretary's discussions with President Shevardnadze, we've always talked a number of times about how to improve their capabilities, particularly border, in border areas. So this kind of program is a follow-on to many things that we have been doing, and were doing, in fact, before September 11th.

But I believe at this point the Georgian government has talked about the presence of foreign fighters in the region. We have talked, in our Patterns of Global Terrorism report before, about how some of the Chechens have connections with al-Qaida. And so this whole mix of things, I think, has been apparent for some time, and has been the subject of programs that we've been designing and working on for some time as well.

QUESTION: I want to just -- it's not the first time that you've talked about "foreign fighters" in Georgia, and not specifically al-Qaida. Is there a reason for that? Or is it just semantics?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can define exactly who the people are. What we've said is that some of the Chechen terrorists have links to al-Qaida, particularly in the form of training, and that we've seen the presence of foreign fighters crossing in and out of Georgia. So I'm not quite sure if I can make that final link and say these are them, and thems are those.

QUESTION: -- that some of them are Chechen, rather than anything else?

MR. BOUCHER: I can't tell you that they're Chechens who've received training from al-Qaida, is what I'm saying.

QUESTION: You can't?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I can't. Because, I can say Chechens have received training from al-Qaida. I can say Chechens have gone in and out of Georgia. But I can't say that the people who have received training from al-Qaida have gone in and out of Georgia, although, you know, I'm not quite sure that's an important distinction.

...

Thank you.


[End]


Released on February 27, 2002