News of Japaridze's March 5 appointment has been broadly welcomed in Georgia. Japaridze will assume his new duties at a time when Georgia is facing several national security challenges, including instability in the Pankisi Gorge and making peace with the separatist-minded region of Abkhazia. Japaridze should also be in position to help coordinate the activities of US military advisors, who are expected to arrive in Georgia soon to train Georgian troops in anti-terrorist operations. Japaridze spoke to EurasiaNet contributor Zeyno Baran on March 6 about Georgia's national security challenges. The text of his comments follows:
EurasiaNet: Why do you think President Shevardnadze appointed you as the next head of the NSC? Japaridze: As the President explained, I have been closely involved in the discussions and planning of US military assistance to Georgia for counter-terrorism training. The President had meetings at the White House in October, and since then I have delivered several letters from him to the US administration. Given the beginning of a new level of cooperation with the United States, the President wanted the new head of the NSC to be someone who knows the American thinking.
EurasiaNet: What message does your appointment send to the world? Japaridze: Shevardnadze appointed as the head of NSC a man who has been his messenger and key interlocutor with the United States and the West for more than seven years. This gestures that Georgia is committed to the Western orientation, to Western values, democracy, market economy and regional cooperation.
EurasiaNet: How will you balance relations with Russia? Japaridze: I would like to assure you that we are not talking about an anti-Russian or pro-American policy. By the way, I would like to admit that Russia itself is going through a very painful and turbulent process of transformation towards democracy and market economy. A peaceful and stable Russia is in the interest of the world community, an in Georgia's interest, but this will not happen unless Georgia and other states neighboring Russia are peaceful too.
We are declaring one more time that Georgia foreign policy is about Georgia's commitment to Western values and orientation. It is about what is best for Georgia. Of course we want to have normal relations with all our neighbors and want to take their interests into account. But what we are talking about is the strategic price beyond which Georgia cannot go, and that is our independence, sovereignty and commitment to a Western orientation. That is also what Russia wants for itself. The transition for our country is really very painful with many bumps along the road.
EurasiaNet: How would you like to run the NSC? Japaridze: I will need to talk to my President when I get back in detail about this, but as I understand, he would like me to create a new concept of national security. Under Mr. Sajaia the NSC had an oversight function over the power ministries, the new model will be more like the NSC in the United States. As we embark on a joint mission to fight terrorism with the United States, it will also be easier to work together if we have similar systems. Our NSC can of course not be an exact replica of the American NSC because we have different problems and different priorities, but the concept will be similar.
EurasiaNet: What will be the main difference? Japaridze: I guess I will be a very untraditional NSC advisor because I will not only work foreign policy and security, but also domestic issues. Today the domestic challenges we face are the main threat to Georgia, and they are closely linked to our foreign and security policies.
EurasiaNet: Corruption is seen as one of Georgia's main domestic problems. Will the NSC be involved in anti-corruption work? Japaridze: When I identified the main threat to Georgia as internal, then of course I had corruption in mind. Today this is our number one problem we need to solve. It is not an unidentifiable concept, there are individual people we need to catch and bring to justice. We need also to forcefully identify and fight sources of corruption, its institutional and organizational roots. We will have to take some unpopular measures, but this is the only way. Survival of my country depends on this fight.
EurasiaNet: What is your position towards Abkhazia? Japaridze: I want the NSC to be involved in discussions with all the parties. We need to find a political solution; there is no other way. The process is starting slowly, and there are a lot of zig-zags and obstacles, but we need to find a modus-vivendi of peaceful coexistence.
EurasiaNet: How about other separatist regions? Japaridze: I want to travel to different part of Georgia and talk to people. Not just to satisfy my curiosity, but to understand the issues so I can make good policy recommendations to my President. As I said, the internal situation in Georgia will be a key priority of the NSC.
EurasiaNet: The Georgian people have suffered a lot over the years and they need to believe in a better future. Do you consider relations with the public an area for the NSC to be involved? Japaridze: Definitely. A friend of mine asked me what I want to accomplish in this job, and I said that I want to tell the truth, not manipulate the people. I need to tell the truth to my President when I offer him policy options, but I also need to tell the people the truth. It is not an easy job and may not make me popular, but that's how I have identified my mission.
EurasiaNet: What are some of the truths you want to communicate? Japaridze: The truth is, while we are still a weak state, we have accomplished a lot over the years, which people often tend to forget. I am not excusing our shortcomings, but I think it is important to give people a sense of history. I want to communicate to people that state-building is a painful process and takes a long time. People need to better understand the purpose of their sacrifice, which is to achieve our goals of independence, sovereignty and a pro-Western orientation. This message is very hard to communicate because we also need to deliver in the short term.
EurasiaNet: This makes me think of the Balku-Tbilisi-Ceyan and Shah Deniz pipeline projects-Georgia has committed itself to projects that are strategically important, sometimes at the expense of short-term gain. Japaridze: I have been involved in the pipeline projects from the beginning alongside with my good friend Giorgi Chanturia, president of GIOC. These pipeline projects are not just to deliver oil and gas, but they are strategic for us. They will strengthen our independence and sovereignty and make us less dependent on Russia. And it will also help Russia identify its real interests in Georgia. Georgia is still a weak state and without diversified energy supplies we also cannot have strong foreign and security policies. And that is also what I mean by the price. We experienced gas and electricity cut-offs from Russia. It would have been easier to reach contracts with Russia, but we were willing to pay the price of our independence and security of long term supply and decided to wait for the Azeri gas. Which, by the way, does not exclude cooperation with Russia in multiple energy projects.
Editor's Note: Zeyno Baran, is the Caucasus Project Director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. He conducted the interview with Ambassador Japaridze on March 6. Click here to view the CSIS website.