NATO backs Georgia but no firm invitation to join

Mon Sep 15, 2008 12:49pm EDT
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By Matt Robinson and Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer condemned Russia's military action against Georgia but shied away from making any commitment to the ex-Soviet state on when it will be invited to join the military alliance.

In Brussels, the European Commission announced 500 million euros ($700 million) over two years in aid to help Georgia rebuild after its brief war with Russia last month, and EU foreign ministers rubber-stamped the deployment of at least 200 EU ceasefire monitors to Georgia.

De Hoop Scheffer was in Tbilisi to underscore NATO support for Georgia after a five-day war in which Russia drew Western condemnation by sending in troops to crush a Georgian attempt to retake the rebel South Ossetia region.

But he made no mention of whether Georgia will be given a Membership Action Plan -- a roadmap for accession -- when NATO meets for a summit in December. Alliance members are split over the wisdom of admitting Georgia in the near future.

"Despite the crisis, despite the very difficult political situation Georgia is facing today, NATO ambassadors and I have come to support Georgia, to show Georgia that we are interested in its ambition for Euro-Atlantic integration," the NATO chief told a news conference.

He described Russia's military action as disproportionate and re-stated NATO's condemnation of the Kremlin for recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a second separatist region, as independent states.

Asked if Georgia would receive an action plan in December, de Hoop Scheffer said: "The foreign ministers of NATO in their December meeting will make a first assessment."

"I do sincerely hope that on the political track, given the very serious situation existing as it is, that there will be progress there."   Continued...

<p>Russian troops move along a road outside the Georgian town of Zugdidi September 13, 2008. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili</p>