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Georgia: Saakashvili Tries To Soothe EU 'Allergy'

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (left) meets with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Brussels (InterPressNews) BRUSSELS, February 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, currently on a three-day visit to Brussels, has said he has recognized the EU's growing aversion to enlargement.

"We are not knocking on the EU's door because we don't want to make anyone allergic," Saakashvili joked at a conference organized by the German Marshall Fund on February 26.

No Membership Agenda For Now

Instead, Saakashvili said after meeting the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Georgia is seeking gradual, tangible benefits.

"We should get...better visa access, especially for youth, for businessmen, for other people, and further for the whole population; we should get better trade, [a] free trade regime, we should learn how to extract maximum benefits from this regime," Saakashvili said. "And we should just do all the other things that [do] not involve European Union membership, but [are] very close to what other European Union members have."

The EU once again gave little indication that its door was going to be open any time soon.

Solana said on February 26 that the EU has a "deep and close relationship" with Georgia in the form of the recently signed five-year European Neighborhood Policy "action plans" and he is "happy with that."

"We don't want to make anyone allergic." -- Mikheil Saakashvili

The EU foreign policy chief also noted that the EU's relationship with Georgia is no different to that with Armenia and Azerbaijan -- and that the bloc prefers to deal with the region as a whole.

With regard to NATO, Saakashvili was markedly more positive. He told his conference audience on February 26 that he expects a Membership Action Plan (MAP) from the alliance in late 2007 or early 2008. A MAP would virtually assure membership.

Russia, Frozen Conflicts

Saakashvili also played down continued strains in Georgia's relationship with Russia. He said Moscow's "rhetoric" has eased in recent months -- although the economic sanctions still remain in force. However, Saakashvili repeatedly said Russian pressure as a welcome incentive for the Georgian economy to reform and target other markets.

Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia (TASS)

With Russia in mind, Saakashvili said there was little sign of progress in resolving Georgia's frozen conflicts with and South Ossetia.

He made clear Moscow's involvement in the two breakaway regions remains deeply suspect in Tbilisi's eyes.

After his meeting with Solana, Saakashvili emphasized an "unconditional" respect for Georgia's territorial integrity was essential for any outside involvement. He said Tbilisi continues to look for a negotiated solution to both conflicts, with the help of the EU.

Solana acknowledged his guest's sensitivities saying, "We would like to insist also on the importance we attach and the very deep belief here in Europe in the territorial integrity of Georgia."

Energy Talks

Responding to a question at a press conference, Saakashvili denied Kosovo's likely secession from Serbia would have any implications for either Abkhazia or South Ossetia. He said attempts to treat Kosovo as a precedent would run contrary to the basic principles of European democracy.

Later today, Saakashvili is expected to discuss with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs Georgia's potential as a transit country for European energy and other trade.

Russia And Georgia

Russia And Georgia
Beefed up security outside Russian military headquarters in Tbilisi on September 27 (InterPressNews)

NOT ALL WINE AND ROSES. Moscow's relations with Tbilisi since the collapse of the Soviet Union have often been tense and strained. Among the issues that have made the relationship difficult are Moscow's alleged support for the breakaway Georgia regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as the continued presence of Russia troops on Georgian territory. Periodically, Georgian lawmakers propose withdrawing from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) altogether. RFE/RL has written extensively about the rocky relationship between these two countries.


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RFE/RL's complete coverage of Georgia and Russia.