In a speech to visiting U.S. Jewish leaders, the U.S. ambassador to Georgia compared the republic’s president to America’s founding fathers.
“You read back about our history and you see what it took for us to get to where we are today,” John Tefft said. “You understand how hard it is to not only build democratic institutions but to build a democratic culture.”
Tefft spoke at the start of a visit to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The presidents and executive directors of more than 50 U.S. Jewish groups are in the country to hold high-level talks with government officials, including President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, cited Georgia’s history of tolerance, pro-Israel stance and strategic importance both as an alternate route for Central Asian gas and its proximity to Iran as the key reasons for visiting.
Since the so-called Rose Revolution swept Saakashvili to power in 2003, Georgia has charted a course away from Russia, promising government and economic reforms.
In November, opposition groups led by billionaire oligarch Arkadi “Badri” Patarkatsishvili took to the streets in protest of the government’s policies, which have failed to produce wealth outside the capital. Georgian police responded with force.