Georgia knows it still has work to carry out before it can be admitted to NATO, President Mikheil Saakashvili told NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Black Sea resort of Batumi on Thursday.
“Georgia has come a lot closer,” Rasmussen said as he arrived in the Georgian capital on a two-day visit on Wednesday. “Further reforms will be Georgia’s ticket to membership and NATO is here to help.”
“You have already achieved a great deal and we now look forward to you completing the necessary reforms,” Rasmussen added at Thursday’s meeting with Saakashvili.
Last year saw NATO open a liaison office in Georgia, which is the second largest non-NATO contributor of soldiers to the international, Alliance-led force in Afghanistan.
“As a result of eight years of radical transformation, we are now closer to the Alliance as never before,” Saakashvili said. “Of course, the journey is not yet over. I know that this is not an easy road, but no one will be able to reverse our advance; I repeat - no one will be able to reverse it.”
Saakashvili, wearing a NATO tie that he said the Alliance’s former chief, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, had given him while on a visit to Georgia, said he had hoped Rasmussen would present him with a NATO jacket.
“We are not asking for a NATO umbrella though, but a jacket would do this time,” he said.
A major stumbling block to Georgia’s accession to NATO is its dispute with Russia over breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in August 2008 after Georgian forces attempted to rein in South Ossetia. Russia has since recognized both republics.
Rasmussen said NATO continued to recognize both republics as integral parts of Georgia.
Saakashvili also called a Swiss-brokered deal with Russia on third-party monitoring of the borders of the republics a “victory.” Georgia had refused to approve Russia’s membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) until a deal was reached. The approval of all members of the WTO is necessary for accession.
The U.S., which backs Russia’s WTO bid, has welcomed the deal.