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Georgia: No talks on hosting U.S. missile defense system - FM

RIA Novosti

04/05/2007 13:23 TBILISI, May 4 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia has denied being involved in any talks or discussions on basing elements of a U.S. missile shield system on its soil, the country's foreign minister said Friday.

Gela Bezhuashvili said in an interview with British daily The Financial Times Wednesday that Georgia is prepared to consider hosting components of an American missile defense system.

"If [the US] came and told us that they wanted to, we would certainly be willing to talk about it," he was quoted as saying.

Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said earlier the U.S. would like to deploy a forward-based radar in the Caucasus to facilitate its ability to track missiles originating from Iran.

But Bezhuashvili said in a written statement released Friday: "I would like to set the record straight and clear any misunderstanding over my remarks to The Financial Times. In my interview, I underlined that no negotiations are being conducted on the deployment of U.S. missile defense elements on Georgian soil nor are any such negotiations being planned. We are not involved in any discussion on the matter."

He said any speculation on the issue is counterproductive.

In his interview, the minister said the Americans have not formally requested talks with Georgia, but the majority of the country's population supports NATO membership.

"Public support for NATO membership stands at 84 per cent, we have recently doubled our troops in Iraq - I do not think it would be a problem," he said.

But he said that while relations with the U.S. are improving, further tension was expected in relations with Russia.

"I think the relationship will actually deteriorate in the future. The "dynamics in all of this" were "not very promising," he said.

Russia fears that Georgia's NATO membership will seriously worsen relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, a senior Foreign Ministry official said last week.

As well as being uneasy about the opening of NATO bases on the territory of Russia's former Soviet allies in the Baltic region and Central Asia, Moscow strongly opposes efforts by Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance, saying the prospect threatens its security and will unleash a new arms race.

On April 10, U.S. President George Bush signed into law legislation supporting a Ukrainian and Georgian bid to join NATO.

Georgia has pushed to join the Cold War-era organization since Western-educated President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power on the back of mass protests in 2003, hoping that membership will help it regain control of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that Tbilisi believes are backed by Russia.

Russia helped to end the bloody conflicts in the region in the early 1990s and has maintained troops there ever since.

In mid-March, despite bitter differences on domestic issues, Georgia's parliament voted unanimously to carry on with the NATO bid.

Moscow said it would have to develop an adequate response to the possible missile shield deployment in the Caucasus.

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