US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met opposition leaders in Georgia on Thursday and urged further democratic development in the former Soviet state.
"Democracy is absolutely necessary, not because human beings are perfect but because human beings are imperfect," Rice said as she met six leading opponents of pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili.
"It isn't built in a day, democracy.
"We had the birth defect of slavery. My ancestors were considered three fifths of a man," Rice said, referring to her family history as a black American.
Among those who attended the meeting with Rice was former presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze, who was defeated by Saakashvili in a January election.
Also present at the meeting were representatives of civil society organisations working in the areas of the media, law and elections.
The meeting took place on a visit intended to show US support for the pro-Western path taken by this former Soviet state and its president, who is embroiled in a row over separatist territories with giant neighbour Russia.
While Washington firmly backs Saakashvili, US officials stressed that more work was needed to develop a fully democratic society in Georgia.
Georgia's "task now is to build stronger democratic institutions and we saw that Georgia's democratic institutions are frankly weak," said a senior US official accompanying Rice, referring to recent parliamentary and presidential polls.
The official added that recent economic improvements were setting the right conditions for democracy.
"They have set the conditions for doing so by turning around the economy," the official said.