Published January 31, 2012
But President Obama committed the flub on Monday while seated next to Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili. Obama quickly corrected himself, avoiding what could have perhaps been a more serious diplomatic blunder.
The president slipped while discussing Georgia's 20th anniversary of independence -- from Soviet Russia.
"I think Georgia should be extraordinarily proud of the progress that is made in building a sovereign and democratic country. And one of the first things that I did was express my appreciation for the institution-building that's been taking place in Russia," Obama said.
He paused, and then added, "In Georgia."
Saakashvili, who speaks English, did not have any visible reaction to the mix-up, and went on to praise the Obama administration in his remarks. He seemed to be having a good day in Washington, with Obama reaffirming U.S. support for Georgia's aspiring NATO membership, as well as talking up the possibility of a free trade deal.
"I can tell you we are incredibly grateful as a nation for continued support and strong ... cooperation that we'll be getting from your administration and from the United States of America at every level," Saakashvili said. He added Georgia is "grateful" for U.S. support on NATO membership and other issues.
Georgia declared independence in 1991 after decades of Soviet rule. The country clashed again with Russia in 2008, in a dispute over two separatist regions. That clash came at the beginning of the 2008 general election campaign between then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain.
McCain later tried to use Obama's response to that conflict against him, criticizing Obama for calling for "restraint" on behalf of Georgia. Obama, though, actually called for restraint from both countries and later came down harder against Russia.