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Saakashvili thanks France for backing Georgia's EU integration

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Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili expressed on Thursday his gratitude to France over its efforts to strengthen Georgia's cooperation with the European Union and NATO.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili expressed on Thursday his gratitude to France over its efforts to strengthen Georgia's cooperation with the European Union and NATO.

The first official round of talks on the Georgia-EU Association Agreement, which would allow further political and economic integration between Tbilisi and the union, took place in Georgia's Black Sea city of Batumi on Thursday. The document will replace the existing Partnership and Cooperation deal.

"We are very grateful to France for its efforts aimed at [Georgia's] integration with the European Union, very grateful for the constructive position regarding issues related to NATO, we are grateful over the issues related to bilateral economic cooperation, security structures in Europe, the Geneva talks [on security in the South Caucasus], and other issues," Saakashvili said after talks in Tbilisi with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

The Georgian president said at a joint news conference that France's support was "based on genuine European values."

He praised the role that France played in the region, particularly, in relation to Georgia, and his own friendly, long-term relations with Kouchner and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Kouchner also talked of long-standing friendship between Georgia and France. He said France would always support the South Caucasus state's integration with the EU and pledged to back the Association Agreement.

"Despite opposition, we must reach the final conclusion. Russia does not decide who should become a member of the European Union," Kouchner said.

"We want to have friendly relations with all countries. After the Cold War, everybody should choose peace," he added.

France mediated the ceasefire that ended the five-day war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia in August 2008. The war began when Georgia attacked the republic in an attempt to bring it back under central control and resulted in Russia recognizing South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian republic, Abkhazia, as independent.

Kouchner's talks in Tbilisi come after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit on July 5 and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton arrived on Thursday for her first trip to Georgia.

Speaking in Batumi at the start of a two-day trip, Ashton said the union would continue to support Georgia's territorial integrity.

TBILISI, July 15 (RIA Novosti) 

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