Meeting in the ornate Treaty Room atop the State Department in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze on Friday signed the United States-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership.  “I want the people of Georgia to know,” said Rice, “that they will always have a friend in the United States of America.”

“This is an historic day for my country,” Vashadze remarked.  “this is the stepping stone which will bring Georgia to Euro-Atlantic structures, to membership within NATO, and to return to the family of Western and civilized nations.”  Indeed it is a stepping stone—and just that—but upon such foundations strong bridges are built.

And that bridge is as important for America as for Georgia.  The Charter is partial recovery from NATO’s dementia in denying Georgia a Membership Action Plan last April and U.S. President George W. Bush’s paralysis as Russian tank treads crushed American geopolitical interests in the South Caucasus last August.

After a season of strategic stumbling, it is important that the Charter repeats America’s principled interest in supporting democracy and its geopolitical interests in South Caucasus stability and in the East-West Corridor that connects the Black Sea to the Caspian.

“Our friendship derives from mutual understanding and appreciation for our shared belief that democracy is the chief basis for political legitimacy and, therefore, stability,” says one of the Charter’s “Principles of Partnership.”

It continues, “A strong, independent, sovereign and democratic Georgia, capable of responsible self-defense, contributes to the security and prosperity not only of all Georgians, but of a Europe whole, free and at peace.”

Then, nestled among the provisions on “Economic, Trade and Energy Cooperation” is one of the strongest statements yet on the geopolitical importance of the East-West Corridor: “We intend to build upon over a decade of cooperation among our two countries and Azerbaijan and Turkey, which resulted in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Supsa oil pipelines and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipelines, to develop a new Southern Corridor to help Georgia and the rest of Europe diversify their supplies of natural gas by securing imports from Azerbaijan and Central Asia.”

Moreover, the Charter implicitly recognizes that the East-West Corridor is more than oil and gas pipelines.  With further economic development, “An increasingly democratic Georgia can unleash the full creative potential of its industrious citizens, and thereby catalyze prosperity throughout the region and beyond.”  Behind energy will come more trade, and with trade come people and ideas.  With democratic, prosperous Georgia as the linchpin, the East-West corridor will remake the geopolitics of Eurasia.

From this restated American interest in Georgia and the East-West corridor follow reiteration of a commitment to Georgia’s security and rejection of the outcomes of Russian aggression.  Intrinsically valuable is America’s “vital interest in a strong, independent, sovereign, unified, and democratic Georgia.”  This reiteration of vital interest can be a stepping stone to concrete actions that emerge as more valuable than unfounded formal commitments.

Vashadze is right to say, “This document is not directed against anybody, but it is a very powerful signal.”

Moreover, the signal is undergirded by concrete plans.  “The United States and Georgia,” the Charter says, “intend to expand the scope of their ongoing defense and security cooperation programs to defeat these threats and to promote peace and stability.”  That means that the U.S. believes that building an effective Georgian military is a legitimate objective that it will fulfill.

In the process, “the United States and Georgia intend to pursue a structured plan to increase interoperability and coordination of capabilities between NATO and Georgia, including via enhanced training and equipment for Georgian forces.”

“Georgia,” Vashadze told the Associated Press, “will be getting the same thing as MAP under a different name.”

America cannot tell NATO to have Georgia as a member, but it can conduct an action plan that will remove any performance-based objection to its membership.

Equally important is Washington’s explicit commitment to overturn the outcomes of Russia’s war on Georgia, mentioning “the right of dignified, secure and voluntary return of all internally displaced persons and refugees” to their homes.  Additionally, “The United States is committed to assisting the post-war reconstruction and financial stabilization of Georgia.”

In this regard, the economic content of the Charter is invaluable.  The U.S. and Georgia will negotiate a bilateral investment treaty, trade preferences and a free trade agreement.  The fruits of success would be huge.  The U.S. also pledges to facilitate its visa regime for Georgian citizens.

Finally, rather than simply calling for further democratic reform in Georgia, the Charter pledges the U.S. to assist with media development, law enforcement professionalization, judicial reform and educational exchanges.

Friday was indeed an historic day for Georgia because the U.S.-Georgia Charter could alter the course of Georgian history.  Nonetheless, some will chatter—it is general, indefinite, to be negotiated, without guarantees.  True.  Stop discussing and start implementing it.

David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.  This column originally appeared in 24 Saati (24 Hours), Tiblisi’s major newspaper.