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NATO Ministers Back Closer Ties With Georgia --> Georgian soldiers during training excercises led by U.S. instructors in March (epa) September 22, 2006 -- NATO foreign ministers have agreed to offer closer ties to Georgia in a move seen as another step toward possible Georgian membership of the alliance.

The decision to support an "intensified dialogue" with Tbilisi was taken at a September 21 meeting in New York.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Georgia will have to accept the "responsibilities" associated with the intensified dialogue. In particular, he cited the importance of a peaceful outcome to Georgia's conflicts with the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has denounced NATO's decision, saying that Georgia's membership of NATO "would seriously affect the political, military, and economic interests of Russia and would have a negative impact on the fragile situation in the Caucasus."

(AFP, Reuters)

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