By Emil Danielyan
President George W. Bush will hold up Georgia as an example of successful democratic transformation which should be followed by neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan during his historic visit to Tbilisi next week, U.S. administration officials said on Wednesday.
But they indicated that his strong endorsement of policies pursued by the Georgian leadership since the November 2003 “rose revolution” should not be interpreted as U.S. support for similar regime change in Baku and Yerevan.
Bush will become the first U.S. president to set foot in the South Caucasus when he arrives in Tbilisi on May 10. The one-day trip will come as a huge boost to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili who was swept to power as a result of a popular uprising hailed by the West.
Saakashvili has since received more international acclaim for his high-profile fight against corruption. “The U.S. president will visit us to express support to Georgian reforms," he said on Saturday.
A senior Bush administration official confirmed this in a phone interview with Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official said the rose revolution, which was sparked by a reputedly fraudulent parliamentary election, “gave Georgia a chance after a period of stagnation.” “Democratically elected governments are more capable of making the lives of their people better and meeting the challenges of the 21st century,” he said.
The Georgian revolution served as a catalyst for the Armenian opposition’s unsuccessful attempt last year to topple President Robert Kocharian with a campaign of nationwide street protests. But unlike their counterparts in Georgia, Armenian opposition leaders found little support from the United States and other Western powers. They now plan another push for power and hope to enlist U.S. support this time around.
However, the U.S. official made it clear that Washington does not see regime change as a necessary condition for “democratic reforms” in Armenia and Azerbaijan, saying that it will instead “work with” their governments to ensure that the next elections held by them are more democratic. “We support reformers in and outside the two governments,” he said, adding that opposition groups in the two South Caucasus states should engage in a “peaceful democratic process.”
The official was vague on what the Bush administration would do if the authorities in Baku and Yerevan fail to follow through on their pledges of political reform. “Our relations with governments pursuing democratization are always much better than with those resisting it,” he said.