, TBILISI, Jan 11 – Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Monday decorated visiting US Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain with the Order of the National Hero of Georgia.
At a ceremony in Georgia\’s Black Sea city of Batumi Saakashvili lavished praise on McCain for his strong support of Georgia during the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war.
"A friend in need is a friend indeed. Georgia is a free country today … because of our friends\’ support," Saakashvili said in comments broadcast on Georgian television.
"John McCain demonstrated heroism for America and for Georgia."
McCain said the award was "an expression of partnership and solidarity between our two nations, confronted by common challenges, bound by common interests, and united by common democratic values."
The senator at the time of the conflict was the Republican candidate for the US presidency, fighting a campaign that would ultimately see him defeated by Barack Obama.
He repeatedly backed Georgia in the conflict, stating at one point that now "we are all Georgians" and vehemently criticising the actions of Russia.
At the beginning of the ceremony, Saakashvili handed McCain what he said was a pistol that once belonged to an American pilot captured by Soviet troops in Vietnam. He said it had been sold during the August war to a Georgian businessman by a Russian general.
McCain, a former naval aviator, spent six years in North Vietnamese captivity as a prisoner of war during which he was severely tortured.
The visit of McCain and fellow Republican Senators John Barrasso and John Thune in Batumi on Sunday and Monday is "aimed at strengthening the US-Georgian strategic partnership," the Georgian presidency said in a statement.