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Georgia to start NATO membership program in fall - president

RIA Novosti

19/04/2007 14:42 TBILISI, April 19 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia will be ready to start a NATO membership program in the fall of 2007, President Mikheil Saakashvili said at the 65th Rous-Rout seminar Thursday.

The seminar, which runs to April 21, on the theme of Georgia's way toward Euro-Atlantic integration will discuss Georgia in a regional context, relations within the South Caucasus, the EU and NATO, and Abkhazia and Tskhinvali conflicts.

"Georgia will be ready to move up to a higher level later this year, and we expect to receive the status of an official NATO candidate in the next few months," Saakashvili said.

The Georgian leader said the political decisions of some [NATO] leaders "should not depend on gas prices."

"Georgia needs Europe, and Europe needs its historical part, Georgia, and pragmatic European politicians understand it only too well," Saakashvili said.

Addressing the seminar, Georgian Parliament Speaker Nino Burdzhanadze said the country was strengthening its army to comply with NATO standards, not to solve military conflicts.

"Some politicians and Russian government officials believe the unresolved conflicts in Georgia will be an insurmountable obstacle to joining NATO," she said. "Our opponents and neighbors have issued insinuating and provocative statements alleging that Georgia is preparing for war and spending large sums on the military."

She said: "Georgia will do its best to solve the conflicts raging in the country by peaceful and political means with the help of the international community," Burdzhanadze said.

The seminar involves Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Parliament Speaker Nino Burdzhanadze, NATO PA president Jose Lello, Michael Davey from the EBRD, officials from Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, PA NATO members, diplomats accredited to Tbilisi, Georgian MPs, experts and analysts.

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