Door is always open for Georgia, NATO chief says
NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, is visiting Georgia to review it's bid to join the Alliance. Tbilisi says that Moscow should not view NATO's eastward expansion as an act of aggression against Russia.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and President Mikhail Saakashvili held a press conference to discuss Georgia’s perspective membership in the alliance.
The Secretary General praised the country’s reform process, but said that more needed to be done.
“Today I came here and this is a confirmation that Georgia is standing firmly and continues work on its way to reforms. Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say once again loud and clear that the door of NATO has always been and still is open,” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.
NATO membership is Georgia’s number one foreign policy priority, with the years since the Rose Revolution of 2003 seeing the country spending millions of dollars reforming its armed forces in an effort to bring them to alliance standards.
However, Friday’s press conference saw no mention of Georgia moving to the next stage of integration with NATO – the Membership action plan.
Lack of progress in the resolution of the conflicts in Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as ongoing political tensions in the wake of the arrest of ex-defence minister Irakli Okruashvili could prove a setback for Georgia’s membership plans.
Opposition leaders say that if the pace of NATO integration has slackened, the President only has himself to blame.
“If the process is today slowed down it is probably this government that bears responsibility in not achieving all the necessary aims that were put by NATO countries,” Salome Zurabishvili, former foreign minister and leader of Georgia’s Way opposition party, explained.
With huge popular support for NATO membership, the government will now be under pressure to deliver on the reforms and provide the stability NATO needs to see before Georgia can become a member of the alliance.