GEORGIAN PRESIDENT HOPES FOR SIMPLIFIED VISA PROCEDURES WITH RUSSIA

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MOSCOW, April 22 (RIA Novosti) - President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia hopes that the visa procedures between his country and Russia will be simplified.

"I believe that in the near future we will get a simplified visa regime. But abolishing visas altogether would be wrong, I guess, " Saakashvili said Thursday, addressing the Georgian parliament.

The Novosti-Georgia news agency quotes the President as saying that the establishment of a strong partnership with Russia was a priority task with the Georgian government.

"The policy of brinkmanship must be rooted out; we don't have to choose between Russia and the United States or between Europe and the United States; we need everything that will do good to Georgia," Saakashvili said.

"The previous Georgian government practiced the policy of deliberately irritating Russia, trying to compensate for the interior weaknesses with aggressive rhetoric toward Russia-all this turned out bad for Georgia and for Russo-Georgian relations," Saakashvili said.

"I am certain that a consistent, principled and respectful dialogue with Russia will help us get that country [back on board], and there are signs of that happening already," the Georgian President pointed out.

"The Russian public opinion with regard to Georgia has also shifted toward the positive; I could not even imagine that would help so soon," he continued.

"Today, mentioning of Georgia in Russia won't trigger such a negative reaction as it has [until recently]; in Russia's political circles, even among ultranationalist politicians, criticizing Georgia to score political points is out of fashion now, as it has become useless.

"In the past, such an attitude toward Russia did Georgia great harm-in Abkhazia and in other regions of the country. This is why the establishment of serious partnership-based relations with Russia is a key priority with me," Saakashvili said.

Russia has recently given to Georgia guarantees for new economic preferences and it is important that the two countries make more steps to meet each other halfway, he said.

The Georgians must come to realize that they stand to benefit from the development of relations with Russia, an important factor in many of their problems, including interior ones, Saakashvili pointed out.

Speaking to reporters in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on March 27, President Vladimir Putin said that the need for visa procedures on the Russo-Georgian border had nothing to do with the relations between the two countries, but arose from the growing threat of international terrorism. The goal is to undermine logistic support for terrorist groups operating in Georgia. If this goal is achieved, visas will no longer be necessary, President Putin explained.

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