Senators praise historic Georgian elections

Two Senate Foreign Relations Committee members traveled to Tbilisi to witness the elections that pushed Mikheil Saakashvili's party from power Monday, and they praised both sides for their actions during and after the vote.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and James Risch (R-ID) spent several days in Georgia as official elections observers with the U.S. Embassy. They spoke with members of the Atlantic Council on a conference call from Ankara, Turkey Tuesday. Both senators said the elections that will sweep into power the Georgian Dream movement, led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, were free and fair and that the United States would work constructively with the new Georgian government going forward.

"We watched an historic transition in Georgia. We were very pleased to see that the elections yesterday were overwhelmingly peaceful, with few incidents, and the will of the people of Georgia was expressed," Shaheen said.

The two senators visited several polling stations and spoke with election workers, observers, and voters. They said the elections show the maturity of the Georgian democracy and that Georgia should serve as a model for other countries in the region, especially former Soviet bloc states.

Saakashvili and Ivanishvili both gave remarks following the vote that helped keep the situation calm, Shaheen said, and she urged the new government to continue the old government's efforts to build up Georgian institutions and civil society.

Risch praised the outgoing government for setting up voting rules and procedures that allowed for an orderly process and a free and fair result.

"It was done very orderly; we watched it," he said. "Although we got a handful of complaints... at the end of the day, we knew that however this came out, it was going to be a fair election and the will of the people would be on the table and for everyone to see. They can be proud of the way the elections were conducted."

Shaheen and Risch met with both Ivanishvil and Saakashvili Tuesday, the morning after the vote. Risch said Ivanishvili said nothing but positive things about the U.S.-Georgia relationship. "We were very comfortable as far as our relationship in the future," Risch said.

In a statement issued after the conference call, Shaheen and Risch commented on the violence and allegations of fraud that preceeded the elections and called for a follow-up investigation.

"As U.S. elected officials, we can appreciate that the hard work of democracy is not always pretty.  The campaign and the lead-up to Election Day in Georgia were tough, polarizing and messy, and the significant allegations of campaign violations on both sides will need to be addressed in the immediate aftermath of this campaign," they said.

Saakashvili conceded defeat in the parliamentary elections with a statement Tuesday. He will remain as president until elections next year and pledged to help the Georgian Dream party as his own United National Movement party moves into the opposition role.

"After summarizing the preliminary results of parliamentary elections, it is obvious that the coalition Georgian Dream has gained an advantage in these elections," Saakashvili said. "It means that the parliamentary majority should form a new government and I, as the president, will contribute -- in frames of the constitution -- to the process of launching Parliament's work so that it is able to elect its chairman and also to form a new government."

In an interview last month with The Cable, Ivanishvili pledged to continue close cooperation with the West, including the contribution of Georgian troops to the mission in Afghanistan.

"That such a large military and political coalition as NATO is partnering with us and takes us as a young partner -- this is an honor and we need to do everything we can to retain this and take part in our maximizing and supporting this," he said.

Ivanishvili said that Georgia should aspire to be a regional player and still hopes to join NATO after his party comes to power.

"Security-wise, something better than NATO has not been invented...  Every human being strives to a better future, and this is the better future for Georgia, and this is our strategy," he said.

He also pledged to improve Georgia's relations with Russia.

"No matter what kind of ruler it will be, better than Putin or worse than Putin, every politician's duty is to normalize relations with their biggest neighbors," Ivanishvili said.

UPDATE: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement on the election this afternoon:

The United States congratulates the people of Georgia for the successful completion of yesterday's parliamentary elections, and the achievement of another milestone in Georgia's democratic development.  Georgian citizens have set a regional and global example by conducting a competitive campaign, freely exercising their democratic rights, and affirming their commitment to undertake a peaceful transfer of power.  Local and international election monitors, including OSCE/ODIHR, contributed to ensuring a transparent electoral process.  While the final tabulation and appeals are still ongoing, these elections mark a significant step in the consolidation of Georgian democracy. 

Much work remains in the coming days and months.  President Mikheil Saakashvili, Bidzina Ivanishvili and the leadership of the Georgian Dream coalition, and Georgia's new parliament will need to work together in a spirit of national unity to ensure continued progress on the advancement of democracy and economic development to the benefit of the Georgian people and the entire region.

The United States stands with all Georgians in welcoming these historic elections.  President Obama and his Administration look forward to furthering our close cooperation and strong bilateral partnership with Georgia.



The Cable

Congress fails to reauthorize the Pentagon’s mission in Iraq

The Pentagon is scrambling to figure out how to keep its personnel in Iraq after Congress failed to authorize funding for the hundreds of U.S. military personnel involved in training the Iraqi security forces.

In its final act before leaving town earlier this month, Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) that failed to reauthorize the main mission of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq (OSC-I), despite Pentagon warnings that the move could force the military to withdraw hundreds of U.S. troops who are still in Baghdad helping to develop the Iraqi security forces and working with them on counterterrorism. The authority for U.S. forces to train and assist the Iraqi security forces expired Sunday.

While the bill was going through Congress, the Pentagon told lawmakers that if the authorization weren't renewed, the Defense Department would have to withdraw 220 of the 296 personnel it currently has in Iraq, congressional sources said. In response to questions submitted by The Cable, the Pentagon said it was still trying to figure out how to adjust.

"No personnel will return immediately to the United States on Oct. 1, 2012 while DoD is reviewing the effect of not being authorized under the Continuing Resolution to continue the training of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)  following expiration of the Iraqi Security Forces Fund (ISFF) authority on Sept. 30, 2012," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Wesley Miller said in his response. "The Department of Defense is reviewing the availability of other authorities that may authorize OSC-I to conduct training activities in Iraq."

Congressional sources said the bill doesn't cut off all funding for the Iraqi security forces, but does cut off all funding related to the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), a unit of elite Iraqi forces that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, not through the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

The Pentagon spokesman said that the Defense Department does not believe that the loss of authorities will negatively affect the relationship between OSC-I and CTS or OSC-I's ability to train the CTS. "The Government of Iraq is responsible for counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and therefore directing the activities and operations of the CTS," Miller said.

But congressional sources said that Central Command's plans, strategy, and policy directorate, known as J5, is working hard to figure out how to keep up its activities in Baghdad until the training authorities and funding are restored.

"Centcom J5 and legal teams are reviewing other options to mitigate the loss of funding, as we continue to try to get authority into the final [National Defense Authorization Act]," a congressional source said, referring to the annual defense policy bill, which will probably be passed in December.

Hill aides also said that Congress's failure to reauthorize the OSC-I was part of the overall mess created by budgeting last minute through a CR, rather than through the regular appropriations process. The White House Office of Management and Budget submitted hundreds of requests for items to be added to the CR, but House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) wanted a bill with no "anomalies," so almost all of OMB's requests were rejected.

"The chairman believes that the most appropriate and best place to address these types of important issues is on the regular DoD appropriations and authorization bills, not short-term funding band-aids like a CR. This is why he will continue to push to get this critical legislation through the Congress as soon as possible," Rogers spokeswoman Jennifer Hing told The Cable.

The reauthorization of OSC-I is not the only thing Congress left of out of the CR that is giving the Pentagon headaches. The bill also failed to authorize completion of the prior-year shipbuilding program for the aircraft carrier CVN 71 overhaul. The Pentagon has told Congress if the authority to finish the work on this overhaul is not provided, the work will have to be suspended by January.

Congress also failed to extend authority for joint task forces to provide support to law-enforcement agencies conducting counterterrorism activities, which could halt the direct assistance of DOD personnel and funding of Treasury Department personnel working directly with the Afghanistan counternarcotics Police Technical Interdiction Unit.

UPDATE: Foreign Policy's E-Ring reports that the Joint Chiefs of Staff shifted $1.7 million to keep OSC-I running for an additional 90 days. "This is a temporary bridge," Pentagon Spokesman George Little said today. "The important thing is that we found the money."