NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said on March 25 he had reiterated to President Saakashvili that the alliance’s policy towards Georgia “has not changed”.
“We will continue to support Georgia in its Euro-Atlantic aspiration,” Rasmussen said and reiterated NATO’s open-door, merit-based admission policies.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Rasmussen after the meeting in Brussels, President Saakashvili has declined to speculate about possible timeframe of Georgia’s future membership.
“I don’t think we should put time limits,” he said. “There are many factors in interplay and never say never, because we have seen in the past people saying the Baltic countries will never join [NATO] in their lifetime… Things change very fast and we should work and we are willing to do our homework, we need to be ready. We’ll see.”
He also said that ongoing occupation of Georgia’s regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia should not be an obstacle to Georgia’s NATO integration.
“There were cases, when countries were divided and they became members of NATO. I hope this division will be overcome before that and whole this thing will happen much earlier than any of us can imagine. But we need to work and it’s not about us making wild guess when exactly [it happens],” Saakashvili said.
The NATO Secretary General reiterated the alliance’s commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity and said: “Our allies stick to their policy of non-recognition of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia.”
“NATO continues to call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the six-point ceasefire agreement and to allow international monitors into the entire territory of Georgia,” Rasmussen said.
He welcomed the Georgian government’s strategy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which, he said, “advocates engagement as opposed to isolation.”
“I consider this strategy as step in a right direction,” Rasmussen said.
He said that “ongoing process of democratic reforms” in Georgia was also discussed during the meeting.
“We hope to see the implementation of the necessary electoral and constitutional reforms in line with the commitments Georgia has undertaken in its Annual National Program,” Rasmussen said.
“In that respect the upcoming local elections will be an important milestone,” he added.
Rasmussen thanked Georgia for its contribution to the Afghan operation. Georgia, which already has 175 soldiers in Afghanistan serving under the French command, will send in April an infantry battalion without national caveats, who will be deployed alongside with the U.S. Marines in the province of Helmand. After the deployment of the battalion Georgia will become the largest per capital contributor to the Afghan operation.
Saakashvili said that Georgia was ready to contribute to the Afghan operation not only by sending troops there, but also through providing training to the Afghan police forces both in Georgia and on the ground in Afghanistan.
“We have the most successful example – in the region at least and one of the best one among recent examples of transitional countries – of police reform,” Saakashvili said.
He said Georgia had also offered NATO to use its territory as a transit route for supplies in Afghanistan. In March, 2005 Georgia and NATO signed an agreement envisaging use of Georgia’s air space, road and rail infrastructure for transit purposes by NATO to send supplies for its troops in Afghanistan. The route operating through Georgia, however, is not sanctioned for arms shipments
Saakashvili also told the NATO Secretary General that after his appointment NATO’s doors “have opened very widely for Georgian officials.”
“I’m seventh in row, I am concluding long list of Georgian officials that had opportunity to meet you for last several months,” he said.
President Saakashvili is in Brussels to participate in summit of European People’s Party to which the ruling National Movement party is an observer member.