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John Kerry Visits Georgia, Ukraine Ahead Of NATO Summit


Just ahead of this week's NATO's summit in Poland, Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting two former Soviet republics. Georgia and Ukraine want to work more closely with the Western military alliance. Kerry is trying to reassure them that the U.S. supports their ambitions to become more closely linked with Western Europe. Here's a bit of what Secretary Kerry said just after he arrived in the Georgian capital.


JOHN KERRY: The United States remains steadfast in our support of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia's occupation and militarization of parts of Georgia's territory are unacceptable.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Kerry this week and joins us from Tbilisi. Hi, Michele.


SHAPIRO: What did Kerry do there in Georgia today?

KELEMEN: Well, he signed this memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation. And the idea is to really shift the way U.S. military aid works. The U.S. had already been training Georgian troops to take part in NATO operations like the one in Afghanistan. Now the U.S. wants to help Georgia defend itself or, as U.S. officials have been saying, build up their resilience.

And that's really essential when it comes to Russia because eight ago, Georgia lost territory - a region called South Ossetia - after a brief war with Russia. And despite a cease-fire, that conflict really still festers, and the Russians are constantly testing the Georgians. So Kerry, as you heard, was repeating his call on Moscow to abide by a 2008 cease-fire.

SHAPIRO: And this is not just a tense time with Russia. As we mentioned, Georgia also wants to join the European Union, which is having its own problems. Is Britain's vote to leave the EU part of this discussion?

KELEMEN: It's definitely a concern here. U.S. officials say they're talking to the Georgians about this. Georgia has been trying to integrate more into Europe economically, and it's also trying to get visa-free travel for its citizens to visit the EU. So having turmoil within Europe is really making this country nervous. But all Kerry can really do is moral offer support and encouragement. He told the president, who's going to be at that NATO summit in Poland later this week, by the way, that he should talk to everyone there - the Europeans there - about the progress Georgia has been making.

SHAPIRO: And what about Georgia's hopes that NATO, the military alliance, would eventually expand to include it?

KELEMEN: The Georgians want it. The U.S. says it supports it. As Kerry points out, back in 2008, NATO agreed that Georgia should eventually become part of NATO. But, Ari, I remember covering that summit. It was right after the Georgian Russian war, and it was clear then that as long as the Russians were occupying part of Georgian territory that it wasn't going to happen.

SHAPIRO: Michele, I understand Secretary Kerry was also asked today about the civil war in Syria. He's been working with Russia, trying to revive a cease-fire. What did he say about news today that the Syrian army says it will stop bombing for a few days to honor the end of Ramadan?

KELEMEN: Well this is something he's been working on with Russia, as you say, for many months. And there's supposed to be a cease-fire all over Syria and political talks to end this devastating war. What happened today was the Syrians saying that it will agree to 72 hours of a cease-fire. Kerry said - is that enough? No. But is it better than nothing? Yes. And he said he hopes it's a harbinger for more to come.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen in Tbilisi, Georgia, traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry. Thanks Michele.

KELEMEN: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.