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NATO visits Tbilisi: Georgian democratic reforms are the key to membership

By Ernest Petrosyan
Thursday, November 10
“Further reforms will be ‘Georgia’s ticket to membership in NATO’ and the Alliance is here to help,” stated NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, opening the NATO-Georgia Commission session with Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri at Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel on November 9.

“Since our Bucharest summit Georgia has come a lot closer to NATO, but there is still work to be done in number of areas,” he said in his opening remarks and reiterated the decision of NATO’s 2008 Bucharest summit, that Georgia will join the Alliance “one day”, remains firm.

Rasmussen said that the NATO-Georgia Commission meeting would focus on the broad domestic reforms Georgia has made. “You have taken significant steps in promoting freedom of expression and economic growth, fighting corruption and insuring that the military is properly sized and structured. You have achieved a lot; Georgia is on the right track, and you have come a long way,” said Rasmussen at the press conference after the session.

However, he highlighted the fact that Georgia has not yet reached its final destination on its way to democracy. “Georgians want to live in a fully mature, modern democracy. Our mission is to keep strengthening your democracy, keep building the pillars of a free and democratic state: rule of law, freedom of the judiciary and media, fight against corruption, the involvement of civil society. In particular keep the momentum in electoral reform. The elections in 2012 and 2013 will be a litmus test of Georgian democracy, and we look forward to seeing the necessary reforms introduced,” added Rasmussen.

The Secretary General also emphasized Georgia’s contributions in Afghanistan. “You [Georgia] are the second largest non-NATO contributor to our [NATO] operation in Afghanistan. It is a priceless contribution and the best proof of your commitment to the Alliance.”

Rasmussen once again expressed his support for Georgia’s membership in NATO. He noted that the decision made in 2008 in Bucharest still stands, according to him. He also reaffirmed NATO’s full support of sovereignty and territorial integrity within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders.

Asked whether the Kremlin can influence, even veto Georgia’s integration, Rasmussen excluded the possibility for a non-member state to veto NATO enlargement. “It is NATO that decides its future enlargement”, said Rasmussen. “We agreed to develop a strategic partnership with Russia, and at the same time our door remains opened,” noted he.

In his press conference Rasmussen also congratulated Georgia and Russia’s compromise agreement on Russian accession to the World Trade Organization. “It is an important agreement,” Rasmussen said. “The Russian membership of the World Trade Organization will enhance free trade in line with our ambition to engage Russia in a constructive economic, political and security cooperation.”

Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri opened the NATO-Georgia Commission meeting saying, “We are very proud that Georgian soldiers are fighting shoulder to shoulder with NATO allies in Afghanistan.” He said that Georgia’s NATO aspiration was “consensus of the whole society and the whole political spectrum.” Gilauri also said that since 2008 Bucharest summit, “much progress has been made and many reforms have been adopted in Georgia,” adding that Georgia had turned into “an exporter of our reforms”.

“I hope that these reforms and successes will be acknowledged… at the next NATO summit [in Chicago in May].” He added, “Of course not everything is perfect; of course not all the reforms have been finalized yet. There is still a high rate of unemployment, there are still problems in economy, but right now in terms of economy Georgia is one of the healthiest countries in the region,” Gilauri added.

Kakha Gogolashvili, political analyst observed, “Holding a NATO-Georgia session in Georgia is politically a very important event for the country. It means NATO considers Georgia a reliable and close partner. It is also very important for us since NATO council members will be able become acquainted with the work Georgia is doing to join NATO. This will be useful for the Alliance for its further decisions.”