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Georgia Urges Clear NATO Signal On Membership

OSLO (Reuters) -- Georgia needs a clear signal from the NATO military alliance that it is on the road to membership and such clarity might have averted the August war with Russia, President Mikheil Saakashvili has said.

NATO has promised to grant Georgia and Ukraine, both former Soviet republics, membership eventually, but its Bucharest summit in April declined to give either a formal membership action plan, known as MAP.

Russia opposes Georgian and Ukrainian membership of NATO, saying the alliance's expansion up to its borders threatens its security.

In December, the alliance is due to follow up on its open-door policy, but after the Georgia-Russia conflict some allies want to delay extending NATO membership to Georgia or Ukraine, officials have said.

"What we need to get is a clear political signal from NATO that we are on the way [to membership]," Saakashvili told a news conference during a visit to Oslo.

He said that ambiguity and disunity among the allies had left Georgia vulnerable to the conflict.

"August might not have happened if not for this ambiguous message from Bucharest," he said.

Russia launched a counter-attack on Georgia in August after Georgia sent troops to try to restore control over the pro-Moscow breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said it was too early to say when NATO would be able to decide on membership for Georgia, but said an "intensified dialogue" had begun. He added that Georgia needed to carry out reforms before it can join.

Saakashvili named 35-year-old Grigol Mgaloblishvili on Monday to replace the reformist Lado Gurgenidze as prime minister to tackle new challenges after the war with Russia.

The Georgian leader reiterated that there would be no "radical changes" in the new government and said the new prime minister had "full autonomy" to form it.