TBILISI, Georgia, March 31, 2009 – The United States and Georgia will continue to work on a strategic partnership over the coming years, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday. Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright is visiting the former Soviet republic to meet with senior military and civilian officials, traveling to both Tbilisi and Gori.

During his visit to Gori, Cartwright toured an old tank battalion base and a field artillery base. At both locations, he was able to see first-hand destroyed buildings and military equipment from the Russia-Georgia war in August over the disputed South Ossetia province. Cartwright said seeing the damage up close was sobering.

“The tour of this base and seeing the destruction first-hand has been very informative, a stark reminder of the harsh realities of war,” the vice chairman said. “I can see from the soldiers I have met that the Georgian military is very committed to protecting the sovereignty and integrity of their nation.”

After touring the damaged area, Cartwright laid a wreath along with Georgian Chief of Defense Maj. Gen. Devi Tchonkotadze to honor the country’s fallen servicemembers.

“It is a privilege to lay the wreath in honor of Georgian soldiers killed in the recent fighting,” Cartwright said. “These men made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their life for their country and families. My thoughts are with their families and their loved ones.”

Tchonkotadze said it was important for Cartwright to see “the results of Russian aggression.” He said the visit overall was very important, as the Georgians continue the joint cooperation, the transformation of their military into NATO standards, and working on strengthening the warfare capacity of the army.

Cartwright said the joint cooperation will continue for years to come. “We look forward to continuing the strategic partnership in the months and years ahead,” the vice chairman said.

Cartwright also met with Georgian Defense Minister David Sikharulidze and Georgian National Security Council Secretary Eka Tkshelashvili. During his meeting with Sikharulidze, Cartwright said the United States is committed to helping the nearly 29,000-strong Georgian military move forward in its modernization.

The vice chairman also had what he called a “productive and candid” meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. The general said the meetings throughout the day show Georgia is committed to a strong military and a strong partnership with the United States.

“It is clear from talking to the president and from my earlier meetings that Georgia is committed to peaceful relations with its neighbors and to working toward full NATO membership,” Cartwright said. “The United States remains committed to the U.S.-Georgia charter on strategic partnership and to provide training and other assistance to the Georgian military in support of their reform efforts and continued independence.”

The general said his visit was partly a fact-finding mission to view assessments that have been done regarding U.S. and Georgian military relations.

“My trip today allows me the opportunity to see the results of these assessments, talk to the people on the ground, and understand now where the priorities should be put,” the general said. “I will go back to the United States and work very hard to take the assessments and the needs, put them together with the resources and try to move forward on this strategic partnership.”

Cartwright said he foresees the strategic partnership including more training and equipment.

“The training will be focused on the defense of Georgia, on its self and internal defense,” he said. “We will work hard to get both the skill levels that are necessary to do that and work as partners on the equipment necessary. These assessments have helped us understand what the priority should be on that equipment, both in what the Georgians have been able to put together on their own here from indigenous equipment, what equipment needs to be upgraded and then what new types of equipment that are necessary for their homeland defense.”

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