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Georgia aims to join NATO and EU - foreign minister

TBILISI, October 31 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's priority is to join NATO and the EU and to develop security cooperation with neighboring countries, the Georgian foreign minister told RIA Novosti Monday.

"Our primary goal in the near future is to carry out an individual plan of Georgia-NATO partnership and to convince NATO members and close allies that Georgia is ready to adopt the NATO accession plan as early as 2006," Gela Bezhuashvili said in his first interview since being appointed to the post.

"The second priority is joining the EU, although it is a long-term prospect and we have to put some serious effort into accomplishing this task," he said, adding that to further these tasks, Georgia needed to sign an agreement on the withdrawal of Russian bases as soon as possible.

The third priority, according to the minister, is cooperation with countries in the Black Sea region on security measures.

"The EU, the United States, and Russia should consider this aspect [of Georgia's foreign policy] in the context of European security," Bezhuashvili said. "Our region is...part of Europe."

The minister also said Georgia would develop bilateral relations, including with Russia. "Georgia is not hiding its interests," the minister said. "I think Russia should clearly outline its interests in the region, as well."

Speaking about Russia's role in the region, the Georgian diplomat said: "We did not chose our geography. Do you really think Georgia is the catalyst of the problem? Are we to blame for the fact that the Black Sea region today is not the Soviet Union anymore, but rather NATO? Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey are NATO members. Ukraine and Georgia are heading toward NATO, and this reality cannot be changed. It has to be faced as it is. Today, the Black Sea is a European sea. Georgia, like Russia, is a country of the Black Sea region, a link in the chain of European security in the region... This is the reality of today's geopolitics and each country has to find its own place in this reality."

Answering whether Georgia could join NATO before settling conflicts on its territory, he said: "We will continue explaining to our partners that linking Georgia's accession to NATO with conflict resolution will only play into the hands of those who do not want Georgia to join the alliance."

He added that the conflict issue remained the main "sore point" in relations between Georgia and Russia, and Georgia was concerned about Russia's double-standard policies in that respect.

"On the one hand, Russia emphasizes the importance of Georgia's territorial integrity, but on the other hand it does not hide its pressure on separatist regimes...appointing Russian citizens to leading posts [in self-proclaimed republics] and instructing the leadership of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on how to conduct talks [with Georgia]," he said. "I have the impression that Russia is fully satisfied with the current situation."

"You have to understand that Georgia is not the TransCaucasus anymore - the TransCaucasus have ceased to exist. Instead, there is Southeastern Europe, the Black Sea region, and European security. Until the Russian leadership realizes that, we will always have opposing views on geopolitics and the role of each country in this process," Bezhuashvili said.

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