NATO to launch new Georgia commission on visit to Tbilisi

NATO is set to formalize its diplomatic response to August's Russian-Georgian war by inaugurating a new NATO-Georgia Commission in Tbilisi despite vocal Russian criticism, alliance officials confirmed Thursday, dpa reported.

On Monday NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and diplomats from the alliance's 26 member states are to sign an agreement with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili bringing the new body into being, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

The commission is then to hold its first meeting to discuss how NATO as an organization can best help Georgia move closer to the alliance - both by improving political cooperation and by advising Georgia on how to rebuild and modernize its battered army.

The move, which NATO foreign ministers approved at an August 19 emergency meeting as a response to the Georgian-Russian war, is likely to receive a heated response from Moscow.

The Kremlin has long opposed any suggestion of Georgia joining NATO, saying it would see any such move as a threat to its security. The launch of the commission is hardly likely to calm those concerns.

And since the war, Russian officials have regularly accused Saakashvili of crimes against humanity and genocide, with Russia's firebrand ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, telling journalists that the alliance should only contemplate offering Saakashvili membership after it has brought in Hitler and Saddam Hussein.

But NATO officials insist the decision to launch the commission in Tbilisi with Saakashvili is not meant to antagonize Russia.

"There is a clear consensus among the allies that we don't want a total rupture with Russia ... We believe the relationship is an essential strategic bridge across Europe and we will not take steps to undermine it," Appathurai said.

Nonetheless, "the people of Georgia have chosen their president and that is the president with whom NATO allies will work. It's very important to NATO that the Georgian people have the right and freedom to make their own choices," he said.

[Source: Trend News Agency, Tbilisi, 11Sep08]

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