US committed to Georgia’s NATO membership: Cheney

September 4th, 2008 - 5:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Tbilisi (Georgia), Sep 4 (Xinhua) Visiting US Vice President Dick Cheney said here Thursday Washington fully supports Georgia’s bid for NATO membership, media reported. “America is fully committed to Georgia’s membership action plan for NATO and to its eventual membership in the alliance,” Cheney said after meeting Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili, adding that “Georgia will be in our alliance.”

Cheney slammed Russia for its military conflict with Georgia and its subsequent recognition of Georgia’s two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Moscow has repeatedly accused Tbilisi of waging a war and vowed to protect the civilians of South Ossetia.

Cheney, the highest US official to visit Georgia after the Caucasus crisis, will be “assessing with President Saakashvili and his team the aftermath and implications of this crisis”, a US diplomat here said.

The two leaders “will also look beyond the immediate situation and discuss in depth the need for a comprehensive long-term strategy by the international community to help Georgia recover and rebuild,” the US official said.

Cheney arrived from neighbouring Azerbaijan, the first leg of his four-nation tour that also includes stops in Ukraine and Italy.

Cheney’s trip comes on the heels of a White House announcement of a $1 billion US aid package to Tbilisi to “meet Georgia’ s humanitarian needs and to support its economic recovery.”

The assistance “will help the people of Georgia recover from the assault on their country, and continue to build a prosperous and competitive economy,” US President George W. Bush said in a statement Wednesday.

More than half of the funds will be made available in the near term, Bush said.

The south Caucasia region plunged into turmoil early last month when Tbilisi sent in troops to reclaim its secessionist region South Ossetia.

Russia quickly mounted a counter-offensive by mobilising its forces to drive out the Georgian troops and subsequently moved deep into that country. The fighting ended with a ceasefire agreement brokered by France.

The West accused Russia of bullying its small neighbour, but Moscow argued its military operations were intended to protect civilians and enforce peace in the region.

At an emergency summit of the European Union (EU) earlier this week, the 27-nation bloc decided to freeze talks on a new partnership pact with Moscow pending its full withdrawal of troops from Georgia, but shied away from sanctions.

Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway region of Georgia, as independent states last week further heightened tensions in the region. Georgia formally severed diplomatic ties with Russia Tuesday in protest against the Russian move.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the current EU presidency, will travel to Moscow next week to talk to his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in a bid to resolve the crisis.

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