08TBILISI35, SENATOR LUGAR’S JANUARY 10 MEETING WITH MIKHEIL

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08TBILISI35 2008-01-10 13:52 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO8788
RR RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0035/01 0101352
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 101352Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8584
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000035 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EUR/CARC AND EUR/FO 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/10/2018 
TAGS: PGOV PREL EPET ENRG MARR GG
SUBJECT: SENATOR LUGAR'S JANUARY 10 MEETING WITH MIKHEIL 
SAAKASHVILI AND ACTING PRESIDENT BURJANADZE 
 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft, reasons 1.4(b) and (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary: During a January 10 refueling stop in 
Tbilisi, Senator Richard Lugar met with Mikheil Saakashvili 
and Acting President Nino Burjanadze.  Although Saakashvili's 
re-election as President of Georgia has not yet been 
confirmed, acting President Nino Burjanadze clearly deferred 
to his opinions.  Saakashvili claimed the January 5 
presidential election was "free and fair", and competitive. 
He readily accepted the emergence of a stronger opposition to 
his National Movement party, but was critical of his 
opponents in the election and many of the the Tbilisi elite 
who supported the opposition strongly.  Saakashvili expressed 
support for judicial reform and cooperation with the United 
States on nuclear and biological threat reduction.  He asked 
Lugar and the USG to help deter Russian "adventurism" in the 
aftermath of a declaration of independence in Kosovo, and to 
actively support NATO Membership Action Plans for both 
Ukraine and Georgia.  He also urged Lugar to help find ways 
to mediate disputes between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan that 
stand in the way of a linking of gas transport infrastructure 
in the Caspian that would provide a route for Turkmen gas to 
reach Georgia and Europe.  End Summary. 
 
SAAKASHVILI SEES FREE, FAIR ELECTIONS 
------------------------------------- 
 
2. (C) Saakashvili was clearly relaxed and enjoying his still 
unofficial, narrow victory in the first round of the recent 
special presidential election.  Despite the presence of 
acting President Burjanadze, Saakashvili dominated the table 
and the conversation.  Both Saakashvili and Senator Lugar 
expressed appreciation for the calming and conciliating role 
Burjanadze played during the recent political turmoil. 
 
3. (C) Saakashvili was proud that the elections were, in his 
words, free and fair, but also competitive in a way not seen 
in other Caucasus and Central Asian countries.  Each precinct 
was hard fought, he said.  Over the past 45 days he had met 
more than 300,000 people in a tough campaign schedule.  The 
National Movement had good ads on television as well, he 
added.  Saakashvili also gave some credit for his showing to 
an American public relations firm the National Movement had 
hired to assist with election campaigning and polling.  The 
firm's polls, he said, were more accurate than anyone else's 
and had correctly predicted his reported 52 percent share of 
the vote.  In essence, he said, because of the weakness of 
his opponents he was essentially running against himself. 
The fact that he only received 52 percent of the vote despite 
a 70 percent approval rating was humbling, he said.  However, 
he had had to take the risk of submitting to an election in 
order to gain a mandate for continued reform. 
 
4. (C) The January 5 election was the first where 
international election monitors were genuinely enthusiastic 
about the election process, Saakashvili claimed.  Saakashvili 
benefited from strong support in minority Azerbaijani and 
Armenian regions of the country.  He said that for the first 
time in the Azeri regions, because of voter education 
efforts, a large number of women voted in the election, which 
he said accounts for the high turnouts in those regions.  By 
contrast, he said, it was Tbilisi's former elite that had 
lost its privileges under his government that voted against 
him.  They were also dismayed by the violent breakup of the 
November 7 demonstration that happened before their eyes. 
Many such people, Saakashvili said, had been living from 
corruption and smuggling but lost those opportunities because 
of his government's crackdown on economic crime.  Senator 
Lugar expressed concern about the closure of television 
stations during the November state of emergency.  Saakashvili 
said that one of the station's owners (Badri 
Patarkatsishvili) was trying to kill him and to lead a coup 
against the government -- which could not be allowed. 
However, he said, every voter had an opportunity to see the 
opposition on television, and this is in part what won the 
opposition the votes they did receive in the regions.  The 
problem in Georgia is not the freedom of the press, but its 
lack of professionalism, he contended.  The most popular 
political talk show host in Georgia is more like Jerry 
Springer than Oprah, he joked. 
 
5. (C) Saakashvili recognized the need for a responsible 
opposition, but he did not have kind words for his opponents 
in the recent election.  If they had won, he said, then 
"Georgia would go to hell".  The opposition leaders, he said, 
are people who have not changed since "civil war times" -- 
1992-93, in the Georgian context.  It is the government's 
failure that no good alternative has been created. 
Saakashvili said that the plebiscite supported holding 
parliamentary elections in the Spring.  He said it was too 
 
TBILISI 00000035  002 OF 003 &#
x000A; 
 
early to tell what the outcome of the elections will be, but 
predicted that they will be the most competitive elections 
ever held in Georgia.  He estimated that turnout should be 
lower than the January 5 presidential election.  Saakashvili 
expects that the new parliament will have a very different 
makeup than the current one. 
 
6. (C) Asked about Russian interference in the elections, if 
any, Saakashvili said that there was a tacit agreement with 
Moscow that if Saakashvili would not make Russia an issue in 
the campaign, then the Russians would "be good to him" 
afterward.  They broke that promise and sharply criticized 
the conduct of the elections.  For their part, Saakashvili 
said, some European election observers also hold Georgia to 
an unfairly high standard.  They criticized him for effusive 
campaign publicity over opening roads in the regions, he 
said, but don't recognize that their own politicians take 
credit for government benefits in the runup to their own 
elections in more or less the same way. 
 
JUDICIAL REFORM THE NEXT PRIORITY 
--------------------------------- 
 
7. (C) One of Saakashvili's post-election priorities is 
judicial reform, he said.  Even now, he said, judges salaries 
are being raised (more than our own!, Burjanadze 
interjected).  Lots of young professionals are entering the 
judicial ranks, he said, and trial by jury will be 
implemented this year.  Still, he said, creating a well-run, 
independent judiciary is not easy, as illustrated by the 
situation in Ukraine. 
 
THREAT REDUCTION COOPERATION TO CONTINUE 
---------------------------------------- 
 
8. (C) Lugar told Saakashvili that he is pleased with 
Georgia's cooperation on nuclear and biological threat 
reduction, an issue in which Lugar is very interested. 
Saakashvili pledged to continue this cooperation. 
 
CONCERN ABOUT RUSSIAN ADVENTURISM, POST-KOSOVO 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
9. (C) Saakashvili urged Lugar to help the USG and the 
Europeans deter Russian "adventurism" in the period after a 
unilateral declaration of independence in Kosovo.  He said 
that Georgia is not opposed to Kosovo's independence, but 
would prefer that the act take place as soon as possible, 
because "delays cause problems".  Georgia is asking the 
European Union to announce a permanent non-recognition policy 
for the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he 
said. 
 
MAP FOR UKRAINE HELPS MAP FOR GEORGIA, AND BOTH NEED SUPPORT 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
 
10. (C) Saakashvili said that obtaining an offer of a 
Membership Action Plan for Georgia and Ukraine is crucial, 
and urged Lugar to do all he can to support it.  Work is 
needed with the French and the Germans, he said, and in that, 
the support of the U.S. Secretary of State is essential.  He 
added that Ukraine should not be ignored, since new polls 
show a fragile but positive level of support for NATO 
membership there.  The leadership's role in Ukraine is key 
now, he said.  He noted that the Europeans are interested in 
pulling Ukraine into NATO.  This fact is good for Georgia's 
chances, he believes, because Georgia is demonstrably ahead 
of Ukraine in its preparations for NATO membership. 
 
GAS FROM TURKMENISTAN FEASIBLE IF DISPUTES CAN BE RESOLVED 
--------------------------------------------- ------------- 
 
11. (C) When Lugar noted he was going to Turkmenistan, 
Saakashvili told him that Turkmen President Berdymuhammedov 
is expected to come to Saakashvili's inauguration, planned 
for January 20.  Berdymuhammedov holds the key to increasing 
supplies of gas to Europe via Georgia, Saakashvili said. 
That gas has two ways to reach Europe from Georgia, 
Saakashvili said, via Turkey or via an as yet un-built 
pipeline under the Black Sea to Ukraine, which Saakashvili 
believes is a good idea.  Turkmenistan is ready to sell gas 
to willing buyers at its border, he added.  Unfortunately, 
disputes continue with Azerbaijan over ownership of some 
offshore gas fields.  If those disputes can be resolved, it 
will be a cheap and simple matter to connect existing Turkmen 
offshore gas wells to pipes serving other Azeri wells in the 
Caspian Sea, and move some amounts of gas out that way.  What 
is needed, Saakashvili said, is a good mediator between 
Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.  The Turkmen are disappointed 
that the Europeans can't get organized and make their 
 
TBILISI 00000035  003 OF 003 
 
 
position on the issue understood.  They only send 
representatives who give the Turkmen general lectures but 
make no specific offers or proposals.  Meanwhile, Saakashvili 
said, Russian President Putin is pushing, blackmailing and 
bribing to get deals in Central Asia.  Saakashvili observed 
that Berdymuhammedov used Western interest in investment as a 
tool to obtain a better price for Turkemenistan's gas from 
Russia, and is still open to Western connections. 
 
12. (U) Senator Lugar did not have an opportunity to clear 
this telegram. 
TEFFT

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