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Defense Leaders Meet, Reaffirm Georgia’s NATO Aspirations

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BUDAPEST, Hungary, Oct. 9, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reaffirmed the U.S. and NATO pledge for Georgia’s aspirations to join the alliance at a meeting with Georgian Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili here today.

Gates and Kezerashvili met prior to the beginning of the NATO defense ministers meeting being held here on the banks of the Danube.

“I urge our allies to support [the membership action plan] for Georgia in December and to support Georgia’s efforts to accomplish needed reform,” Gates said during a news conference after the meeting.

“The United States of America is our strategic partner and largest assistance provider with whom we share not only common values, but also common understanding of many issues, be it energy security issues, democratic NATO enlargement or the fight against terrorism,” Kezerashvili said. “NATO membership remains Georgia’s top security priority.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Oct. 2 that it is too soon for NATO to provide membership actions plans to Georgia and Ukraine. The United States pressed for Georgian membership at NATO’s April summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania. U.S. officials would like membership action plans for the two nations approved at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in December.

“Heads of government of the alliance declared unanimously in April in Bucharest that Georgia should be a member of the alliance,” Gates said. “The question is whether we can get this accomplished at the foreign ministers meeting in December.”

Russia’s invasion of Georgia and its recognition of the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as nations – something with which only Nicaragua and the terror group Hamas agree – has served to isolate Russia, officials traveling with Gates said.

“We have sought a constructive relationship with Russia, but unfortunately their behavior has undermined security in the region and raised real concerns about their intentions,” the secretary said. “Russia’s invasion of Georgia in my view has achieved, and will achieve, no strategic objective.”

The secretary said he is pleased that Russia appears to be fulfilling its agreement to withdraw from Georgia. News reports out of Georgia indicate the Russian withdrawal from Georgia proper is finished. Russian troops still are in the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Gates reiterated U.S. support for Georgia’s “sovereignty, its independence and its territorial integrity.”

Tomorrow, the NATO-Georgia Commission will meet for the first time. Gates said the meeting is historic, and “a sign of the alliance’s firm commitment to our Georgian partner.”

Later this month, U.S. and Georgian defense officials will meet in Washington to discuss bilateral defense cooperation. Kezerashvili said the talks will help to streamline defense cooperation and outline in a more precise way bilateral defense cooperation projects.

These will include rebuilding the Georgian military. The Russian invasion decimated Georgia’s 28,000-man military. The Russians also destroyed two Georgian bases built to NATO standards in Senaki in the western part of the country and in Gori in central Georgia.

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
Special Report: Travels With Gates, Southeastern Europe
State Department Background Note on Georgia

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