Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NATO Urges Georgia to Deepen Reforms

TBILISI - NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Georgia on Nov. 9 to intensify its political and military reforms to bring the ex-Soviet state closer to membership of the Western alliance.
"Further reforms will be a ticket to membership," Rasmussen told reporters in Tbilisi at the start of his two-day visit to the country.
NATO leaders agreed at their 2008 summit in Bucharest that Georgia and Ukraine could join the military alliance at an unspecified point in the future, although they were denied coveted pre-membership status amid strong opposition from Russia.
"Since the Bucharest summit, Georgia has become a lot closer to NATO but there is still work to be done," Rasmussen said.
He praised the government's reform process but said more must be done to strengthen the rule of law, media freedoms, the judiciary and the electoral process before upcoming polls.
"The elections of 2012 as 2013 will be a litmus test of your democracy," he said, referring to parliamentary and presidential votes over the next two years.
The small Caucasus republic's NATO aspirations have infuriated its powerful neighbor Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008.
Seeking to prove itself as a reliable partner, Georgia has become one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the Western alliance-led mission in Afghanistan, deploying more than 900 troops to help combat the Taliban.
"That is a priceless contribution and the best proof of your commitment to our alliance," Rasmussen said.
NATO membership is a key goal for the pro-Western government led by President Mikheil Saakashvili and has strong public support amid Tbilisi's continuing disputes with Moscow.
"Georgia's NATO aspirations... are a consensus within the whole Georgian society and the whole Georgian political spectrum," Prime Minister Nika Gilauri said at the media briefing with Rasmussen.
But opposition critics accuse the authorities of flouting democratic principles and argue that the 2008 war set back hopes of joining the alliance.

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