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    SAAKASHVILI TAKES NEW STEPS TO BRING GEORGIA CLOSER TO EU AND NATO

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    TBILISI, April 6, 2004. (RIA Novosti) - On Tuesday, Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia's president, began his two-day working trip to Belgium.

    The president's press service told Novosti-Georgia that during his visit Mr. Saakashvili would meet with President of the European Commission Romano Prodi, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Javier Solana, the high representative of the European Union for Common Foreign and Security Policy.

    The Georgian president will also participate in a Georgia-NATO meeting (in the 26 + one format).

    Mr. Saakashvili will speak at the European Parliament at a session of the committee for foreign affairs, human rights and common security and defense policy. He will also speak at the Belgian Royal Institute of International Relations.

    Mr. Saakashvili is accompanied by members of his family - his wife, Sandra Roelofs, and his son, Edward - and by several officials, including Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili, State Minister for Integration into European Structures Tamar Beruchashvili and Chairman of the Supreme Court Lado Chanturia.

    Mr. Bezhuashvili told reporters before he left that during this trip Georgia will officially present the program of its partnership with NATO that the Defense Ministry developed.

    "This visit is very important," Mr. Bezhuashvili said, "it concerns two of the most important priorities in the country's foreign policy. Therefore, we are all going to Brussels in a businesslike mood to be able to present to the Georgian public the perspectives of the country's further integration into European structures and NATO."

    Ms. Beruchashvili noted that this is the president's first visit to Brussels during which "a very broad and important range of issues will be considered."

    "The European Union is our main partner and our support," the state minister said.

    She said: "Intensification of the European Union's role in the entire region of the South Caucasus, the expansion of the European Union, new perspectives of its cooperation with Georgia and steps aimed at the development of our country, the strengthening of trade and economic relations, and the carrying out of assistance programs in Georgia, is all very important."

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