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TEDO JAPARIDZE - GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER

Question: Should Britain have done more to help the Georgian people during the recent crisis?

Tedo Japaridze: It's more appropriate to talk about how Britain helped Georgia get its independence back. We valued the help from the UK and other Western countries. The first on that list is the United States whose help was absolutely immeasurable.

From this perspective I would say the UK has done a lot for Georgia but as well as a lot for the Caucuses.

We wish for this support to be bigger than it used to be. It's practical things. It's time to speak about specifics, about bringing some things to reality.

We're talking about a state building process in Georgia. It's what the Brits are quite experienced at.

It's about the optimisation of government structures, different elements inside government. Scaling down bureaucracy. These are powerful, sensitive issues to deal with. If we do not change we will remain a failed state.

Britain is quite well engaged in the region but if they look at Georgia as part of the region of the South Caucasus, Georgia may be really attractive in the context of regional security.

In this context, Britain and other European countries and America can help Georgia.

There is no doubt that what we experienced was not good but there was an appearance of 'Georgia fatigue' among friends. I heard so many times when I said help us: 'help yourself' meaning 'take care of your problems'.

Question: The downfall of Shevardnadze was dramatic. Is the situation still difficult?

Tedo Japaridze: The most difficult day is the first day of the revolution and helping the new leader understand it is not going to be about nice slogans but the daily management of government. Taking care of those who helped us. It's about daily needs like electricity.

Question: EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was in Georgia just last week. How did it go?

Tedo Japaridze: He visited us and we had a long conversation about the EU and a lot of issues like democratisation. But it's not just about the EU help and joining the EU but - for example - the British helping Georgia to reform institutions or Germany helping reform border guards. It's very interesting.

He's a very knowledgeable, high-level professional and a friend of Georgia, first of all. We talked about Georgia's perspective of how we integrate into Europe. We talked about the agenda we need to accomplish this. It's very complex.

We need to reform inside but outside help will matter in achieving reform. But it has to be done by us. Friends can help but the main job has to be done ourselves. Mr Solana mentioned this question himself. We know we have our friends in Europe but at the same time we see we need to deliver on some complex issues.

Mr Solana said the EU is ready to help Georgia in different areas. We will identify a package of issues and work together - on things like customs reform - to make Georgia a functioning state.

Question: What steps are being taken by the new regime to push through economic and political reforms and to fight against corruption?

Tedo Japaridze: We were talking for years about corruption but in the first week we arrested the most famous corrupted people in Georgia.

I need to admit that there were a lot of things that were achieved in the early days, the constitution, the currency, democratic institutions and a free press. But democracy has not become a way of life in Georgia.

At the same time there are a lot of things that we could have accomplished during those 10 years. Corruption became a way of life.

From this perspective, there are a lot of things to do. It takes hard work. Democracy and democratic government demands equality. It's a two way street.

We're making some preliminary planning to reform government structures. There's a lot of advanced work on the ground taking place.

Question: You've been visiting the UK for the NATO Windsor Energy Security Workshop. Is oil the driving interest for the West in Georgia above anything else?

Tedo Japaridze: It is a factor. Georgia functions as a transitory country in the East-West corridor - it makes us attractive. But it's about Georgia's geographical position.

There are other routes through countries like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. Or the only other access to the European markets is through Iran, China and Russia. Georgia is the shortest way to get goods through to market.

If we continue in the way we used to work, cargos will go a different way. They will prefer to use longer routes that are security guaranteed.

To make Georgia attractive for business we need to reform Georgia from the inside. Unless Georgia becomes a strong state it will diminish and events determined by outside factors will create a bottleneck.

How successful we are depends on how we deal with the problems we have talked about.

Question: Tony Blair sees Britain as a bridge between Europe and America. Can Britain be a bridge between Europe and Russia?

Tedo Japaridze: It's a very interesting approach. We see ourselves as a bridge between the South Caucuses and Europe. We can play this function if Georgia becomes a strong state.

We have still to reform our relationship with Russia and there is the debate about that. We need to have Russia as a neighbour and engage with Russia. But our Russian friends need to understand that if Georgia remains a weak state, not economically reformed, it will create problems for Russia.

Some think if we remain in that condition it's better for Russia. It's about political and security issues. It's not, you know, a zero sum game. This should be a win-win situation for everybody.

Given the good relations between President Putin and Tony Blair, Britain can be some sort of bridge to make Georgia and Russia understand each other. It's got to be about making Russia understand that it's only through co-operation, national understanding and communication that we can solve our problems.

Question: Georgia is supporting the coalition effort in Iraq. When do you think there should be elections?

Tedo Japaridze: We ourselves have been through a period of elections and revolutions. In this case we are unique with elections on Saturdays and revolutions on Tuesdays. There is no need to hold elections for the sake of elections.

Security should be the top priority. Iraq has gone through a very powerful phase. For different states to dictate on nation building will not help.

I think as soon as the people of Iraq themselves will find it appropriate to have elections they should take place. It is not for any country to come and say to Iraq 'it is time to hold an election'. It's a very complex issue for them.

Of course somebody can ask me 'why does he care about elections in Iraq?' It's because our countries are close to each other. It takes two hours to fly to Baghdad. Anything that happens in Baghdad matters to Georgia.

When Condoleezza Rice speaks about the wider Middle East it impacts on Georgia. That's why we wish them a re-normalised situation.

Question: The NATO Energy Security Workshop that you are attending is part of a larger security agenda which includes this year's International Approaches to Nuclear and Radiological Conference co-hosted by the US and Russian governments. How does Georgia intend to contribute to the global fight against terrorism?

Tedo Japaridze: That's an issue, being part of the anti-terror coalition. We need to continue to take on some sort of function to contribute to fighting globally. We have committed resources to Iraq.

We've had a problem of our own. We had some problems in Georgia, near the border with Chechnya with international terrorism.

We continue anti-terrorism work in this region. We had help from the international community - including Russia - but most of the work was done by us.

Question: Does the new Georgian administration have closer ties to Washington or the EU?

Tedo Japaridze: We're not choosing. We want to be integrated into Europe as a natural, historical and economic European country. It's not about a wish as a foreign minister or president. It's the will of the Georgian people which was identified years ago to come back to Europe.

But at the same time we're not going to do this on behalf or at the expense of relations with Russia. And America? We survived as a country for 10 years because of American assistance. But we are part of Europe. Again, it's not about a zero sum game. Everybody should win and that includes Russia and other neighbouring countries.

Question: The EU is in the process of defining its negotiating strategy with Russia. Do you think it should take a tougher stance with Moscow than it has in the past?

Tedo Japaridze: It's not about, you know, making some message or demand to Russia because it always backfires.

Georgia needs to be equal in the dialogue with Russia. It's to make the Russians understand they can gain 10 hundred times more out of a peaceful Georgia. The message should come to us that we should benefit from engagement.

The message for Europe that should be delivered to Russia - as a friend - is that Russia cannot be a democratic, market-orientated country, speaking about its relations with other countries and still be imperialist in dealing with countries like Georgia.

Russia should be dealing with all countries. The only other alternative will be counter-productive and against the interests of Russia.

It's within everybody's interests to have a vibrant Russia. It's a large piece of the world community and they will better promote their interests that way.

Georgia cannot be secure and stable as a country if Russia is insecure. It's inter-connected. The regional security of the South Caucuses is inter-linked. Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia; they all belong to the world community.

It's in the interests of Europe, America and Britain. It's not about sitting down and dictating to Georgia because the security of the UK, the US and Europe will be better if the South Caucuses are secure and stable.