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NATO secretary general on visit to Georgia

RIA Novosti

04/10/2007 15:29 TBILISI, October 4 (RIA Novosti) - NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was uncommitted when discussing Georgia's prospects of joining NATO during his visit to the South Caucasus country on Thursday.

Speaking at a meeting with Tbilisi university students, Scheffer was unable to name the exact date when Georgia would be able to join NATO, saying that all 26 NATO member states would have to come to a decision on the issue.

Georgia declared its intention to join NATO six years ago. According to the existing practice, the country first underwent the first stage of the program, called the Individual Partnership Action Plan, to bring the country closer to NATO standards, and is now implementing Intensified Dialogue, the second stage.

The speaker of the Georgian parliament, Nino Burdzhanadze, said Thursday she hopes Georgia will switch to implementing the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), the third stage for countries wishing to join the alliance, in 2008.

"I am more than convinced that we will keep moving toward integration into NATO. In 2008 Georgia will switch to implementing the MAP program and no artificial barriers will prevent [us] from joining NATO," she told journalists after a meeting with Scheffer.

Since U.S.-educated President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in Georgia, the country has been seeking to join NATO and the European Union and reduce its dependence on Russia, including in the energy sphere.

Georgia expects integration with NATO to help it restore control over its two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and to replace Russian peacekeepers in the area with an international contingent.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also said that NATO is content with its cooperation with Georgia, adding that Georgian authorities are correct in their restrained policy regarding Russia.

Scheffer also said that Georgia had made improvements in its political system, notoriously corrupt in the 1990s, but that there was more work ahead to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

"We also feel that there is a need for greater transparency on the part of the political establishment in order to better explain and debate reforms with the general public, strengthen their credibility and consolidate the democratic process," he said.



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