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US offers Georgia symbolic roadmap for deeper ties

Georgia is hailing a new US blueprint for cooperation as a sign that Russia has failed to impede its integration with the West.

world Updated: Jan 10, 2009 11:23 IST

Georgia is hailing a new US blueprint for cooperation as a sign that Russia has failed to impede its integration with the West. But it is unclear that the document, which US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed on Friday, makes Georgia any safer from Russian aggression.

While the "charter on strategic partnership" demonstrates strong backing from Washington, it is bound to antagonize Moscow. It also provides no guarantees that President-elect Barack Obama will continue to support Georgia with the same enthusiasm as the Bush administration when he takes office on January 20.

The broad outline of US cooperation is also unlikely to move the European countries that have blocked Georgia's path to NATO membership, in part over concerns of alienating Moscow. Last year, Russia's military pushed within artillery range of Georgia's capital Tbilisi after Georgia sought to reclaim a Russian backed breakaway region. Peter Van Praagh, an analyst with the German Marshall Fund in Washington, said that the war demonstrated that the West would not come to Georgia's aid militarily. "That is as true today as before they signed this, and it is important for Georgian leadership to remember as they convey this," he said.

The document outlines broad areas of economic, security and cultural cooperation as well as political reforms that Georgia should undertake with US help. It emphasizes long-held US support for Georgian territorial integrity, which means opposition to Russia's recognition of two breakaway Georgian territories. Obama has expressed support for Georgian territorial integrity and its NATO aspirations. But he is already facing calls from Europe and elsewhere to improve relations with Moscow.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said he believed the current administration consulted the incoming Obama administration on the document, but was not certain.

"The previous administration is not going to do anything without consulting the new one," he said.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza would not specify who had been consulted on Obama's team.

"We are consulting with everybody," he said when asked about conversations with the incoming administration.

Ahead of the signing US and Georgian officials said the document points to a new path toward NATO membership through a NATO-Georgia commission. The document also outlines US help in strengthening Georgia's military and bringing it up to NATO standards.

"The pace of Georgia's integration with NATO depends on the desire of the Georgians themselves and on their ability to meet NATO standards," Rice said at a signing ceremony.

Vashadze said that the NATO-Georgia commission is an alternative and equally viable path to NATO as the membership action plan, sometimes called MAP.

"Georgia will be getting the exactly the same thing as MAP, under a different name. What is the difference?" he said. "If you are moving to a destination, you can use a car, you can fly a plane or take a train. The most important thing is to get there on time."