US Backs Georgia’s NATO Ambitions

bidengeorgiaTBILISI (BBC)–The US “fully” backs Georgia’s hopes of joining NATO, US Vice-President Joe Biden has told the country’s parliament on a visit to the capital, Tbilisi.

Biden is addressing fears in Georgia that the US might sideline its ally in favor of improved ties with Russia.
In a speech to Georgian MPs, he insisted that was not the case and declared: “We will stand with you.”

However, Biden also said that the former Soviet republic had to do “much more” to deepen its democracy.

The Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili, set out a reform plan only days before Biden’s arrival, but the US visitor said reforms had to be followed through.

Biden’s speech, which lasted a little longer than 30 minutes, received rapturous applause from gathered members of parliament.

The vice-president said the US continued to regard the newly independent regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of Georgia, despite their unilateral declarations of independence, which have been supported by Russia.

“We will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states and we urge the world not to recognize them as independent states,” he said.

With the anniversary of last August’s conflict between Russian and Georgia over South Ossetia approaching, Moscow has accused the Georgian government of rearming and of planning “provocative” actions.

Georgia and other countries say Russia has not met the terms of the pact that ended the war, which required that it withdraw its troops to pre-conflict positions. Instead, Russia has built up its presence in the breakaway regions.

Biden told parliament: “We call upon Russia to honor its international commitment, clearly specified in the 12 April ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of all forces to their pre-conflict positions and ultimately out of your territorial area.”

The BBC’s Tom Esslemont in Tbilisi says Saakashvili is keen to capitalize on every bit of American support he can get, especially with vocal domestic opposition over his handling of the war and alleged democratic shortfalls.

NATO has promised eventual membership to Ukraine and Georgia, but has not given either a potential entry date.

The war last year convinced some NATO states that Georgia was too insecure to join the alliance yet, analysts say.

It had been reported that Georgia would ask the US to join patrols along its de facto borders with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are currently carried out just by EU monitors, after the UN and OSCE closed down their monitoring missions at Russia’s insistence.

“We support the expansion of international monitors throughout Georgia to promote peace and stability,” Biden said, though he did not explicitly say the US would contribute.

And he added a warning that there was no “military option” to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity.

The war last August began when Georgia attempted to seize back control of South Ossetia by force. Russia repelled Georgian forces within days.

Meanwhile, the European Union has agreed to extend the EU monitoring mission in Georgia for another year, an EU diplomat was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

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