Britain prime minister pledges aid for Georgia amid sharp exchanges over NATO

Britain Friday pledged its full support for the "territorial integrity" of Georgia and promised financial aid to the country amid an ongoing war of words with Russia over Georgia's future membership of NATO.

Brown made his comments after talks with Georgian Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze in London, where defence ministers of the NATO alliance were also meeting, reported dpa.

Brown's comments followed a reaffirmation Thursday by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that Georgia should become a full member, despite Russian opposition.

Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Friday repeated accusations that NATO had "provoked" the conflict between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia this summer.

The comments were also seen as a response to remarks by US defence secretary Robert Gates, who told Britain's Sky TV that there would be an armed response if Russia should attack Georgia once it was a NATO member.

Gates said he was a strong proponent of NATO being a military alliance, and not a "talk shop," and that Article 5 of its charter obliged NATO to defend fellow-members.

"Article Five means what it says - so there is a commitment to go to the assistance of our allies if they are challenged," he said.

The warning came after the London-based IISS research institute warned against a premature membership of NATO of Georgia and the Ukraine and predicted that the issue could split the alliance.

Standing alongside Mr Gurgenidze in Downing Street, Brown said: "We are in full support of the territorial integrity of his country and we will be giving financial and economic support to Georgia and urging other countries to do so."

In a TV interview to be screened Friday, Brown said if Georgia and Ukraine wished to join NATO, "we should make it possible."

[Source: Trend News Agency, DPA, London, 19Sep08]

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