TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Georgia’s president was expected to ask U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday for advanced weaponry and U.S. observers to monitor a cease-fire along the boundaries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
President Mikhail Saakashvili also plans to urge Biden at a meeting in his presidential offices to push for NATO membership for Georgia, despite skepticism among some other members of the Western military alliance.
The White House has so far avoided making any public commitment on arms or observers, although it says it stands behind Georgia’s application for NATO membership despite determined opposition from Russia.
Biden is on a four-day mission to Ukraine and Georgia to demonstrate U.S. support for the two countries.
A number of Eastern European political figures have expressed concern that the Obama administration could weaken its support for those countries, in its effort to build better relations with Russia.
But Biden’s message on the trip so far has been that restoring cordial relations with the Kremlin will not come at the price of weakening support for allies in the region. Nor will the U.S. recognize Moscow’s claim to an exclusive sphere of influence among former Soviet states.
In the Georgian capital, Biden sought to calm concerns that the U.S. might weaken its support for Georgia in the wake of its defeat in a brief war it began with Russia in August.
At a banquet in Tbilisi on Wednesday, Biden said he wanted to send “an unequivocal, clear message to all who will listen and some who don’t want to listen, that America stands with you and will continue to stand.”
But the U.S. vice president has also come to urge the leaders of Ukraine and Georgia to heal divisions among pro-Western political factions that in Ukraine have crippled the government and in Georgia led to weeks of street protests this spring.
Before Biden’s arrival in Georgia, Saakashvili announced a series of political reforms, including making the post of Tbilisi mayor directly elective.
Georgian police also removed dozens of metal cages protesters erected in front of the parliament building to block traffic along Tbilisi’s central street.
The cages were meant to represent jails — symbolizing what opponents say is Saakashvili’s increasing authoritarianism.
In Wednesday’s banquet speech, Biden called Saakasvhili’s 2003 Rose Revolution, which drove a Soviet-era leader from power, “a clarion call for freedom-loving people around the globe.”
But he also urged Saakasvhili to “plant the roots of democracy deep,” alluding to criticism of Saakashvili’s rule.
He said the U.S. encouraged the growth of civil societies that “hold all governments accountable, yours and mine accountable.”
At one point, Biden said in a joking manner: “You mentioned protesters. Welcome to democracy.”