NATO chief meets with Georgian leader during Caucasus tour

Agence France Presse
Nov. 4, 2004

NATO chief meets with Georgian leader during Caucasus tour

TBILISI (AFP) Nov 04, 2004

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer Thursday met with Georgian President
Mikhail Saakashvili, the youthful leader of the strategic former Soviet
republic in the Caucasus who has vowed to join the alliance within four
De Hoop Scheffer’s visit is part of a Caucasus tour and comes days
after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization decided to extend an
Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) to the country.

“NATO values highly the efforts by Georgia’s people and leadership to
intergrate the the country into the alliance,” de Hoop Scheffer said at
a briefing following the meeting.

“I am a realist and an optimist,” he said. “As a realist, I dont’ want
to talk about (specific) dates. I know that Georgia has a long way to
go to join

“As an optimist, I am certain that all efforts by Georgia’s leadership
will be aimed at doing everything to join the alliance,” he said.

Saakashvili, for his part, said he was certain that “Georgia can join
NATO much sooner than many think.”

“It’s possible this will happen while I am still in office,” said the
36-year-old who was elected Georgia’s president for five years in
January 2004.

Saakashvili, a US-educated lawyer, has repeatedly vowed to turn
westward his small country that lies in what has traditionally been
considered Russia’s sphere of influence, the Caucasus.

The adoption of the IPAP shows that “Georgia has entered the final
stretch of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” Irakly
Aladashvili, a military analyst in Tbilisi, told AFP.

“We have actively conducted reforms according to NATO standards,”
Defense Minister Georgy Baramidze said Wednesday.

Georgia, a nation of less than five million people nestled in the
Caucausus mountains, treads a delicate line with its NATO ambitions —
Moscow has been the traditional power broker in the region and is wary
of pro-Western Saakashvili.

Washington has been vying with Russia for influence over Georgia that
hosts a vital oil pipeline due to take Caspian Sea oil to Western

NATO spread up to the borders of Russia earlier this year when it
admitted the former Soviet republics in the Baltics and the Kremlin
frowns upon the alliance reaching its southern border as well.

Saakashvili has repeatedly sought to reassure Kremlin concerns,
insisting that Georgia will not play host to foreign bases even in the
event it does join NATO.

“NATO integration does not mean that we will have to host foreign
military bases on Georgian territory,” he said last week.

“We are surprised the sensitive reaction in Russia to Georgia’s aim to
be closer to the European Union and NATO,” Nino Burjanadze, speaker of
parliament, said while on a visit to Moscow last week.

“Our aim is membership in the EU and NATO, but not to the detriment of
Russia,” she said.

The question of military bases has a special resonance with Tbilisi, as
Russia still has two bases on Georgian territory from Soviet times.

Although it has agreed to vacate the installations, Moscow has dragged
its feet, saying the logistics of withdrawal could take up to 10 years.

“The question of Georgian integration into NATO is all the more
important in light of relations between Russia and Georgia,” said
Irakly Aladashvili, an analyst.

“First of all, Georgian adhesion to… NATO means the inevitability
that Russia will have to withdraw its bases,” he explained.

De Hoop Scheffer was due to fly out to Azerbaijan late Thursday, where
he was to hold talks with President Ilham Aliyev, before traveling on
to Armenia on Friday afternoon.

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS