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Georgia: Participation In CIS Defense Pact Less Certain

Yerevan, 22 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili says Tbilisi will not renew its participation in the defense grouping comprising most former Soviet republics unless it undergoes major changes to reflect "existing realities."

Menagharishvili made the comment on a visit to Yerevan on March 19, where he was on a one-day visit. He said the Collective Security Treaty, signed in 1992 by most countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), is "absolutely ineffective" and must be renegotiated. He said, quoting: "Georgia cannot prolong the treaty which it believes doesn't fit today's requirements and must therefore be changed."

Menagharishvili did not say what changes Georgia views as necessary. But he said Georgia has tried to "begin a dialogue to adapt the treaty to existing realities" but had found little support from other CIS governments.

Georgia is the third CIS member to have voiced misgivings over the treaty that obliges its signatories to defend each other in the event of military assault. Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan have also signaled that they are considering pulling out of the pact. The document, signed for a five-year period, is to be renewed this year.

Disgruntlement with Russia's role in CIS affairs has led four ex-Soviet republics -- Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova -- to form their own sub-grouping, dubbed GUAM. One of GUAM's first initiatives was an agreement on a joint "peacekeeping battalion." But Menagharishvili said the peacekeeping force is still "non-existent."

Menagharishvili also said Tbilisi is not against continued presence of Russian military bases on its territory but wants Moscow to address Georgian concerns over its "many unresolved" aspects. In his words, Russia has not complied in full with terms of an agreement that provides a legal framework for its military presence in Georgia. He said what he termed "very important military cooperation between Russia and Georgia" must be put "on a proper footing."

Menagharishvili was speaking after talks in Yerevan with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. The two men said they agreed that a "very active political dialogue" between Yerevan, which maintains close military ties with Russia, and Tbilisi fosters peace and stability in the Transcaucasus.

According to Oskanian, the Armenian-Georgian relationship is a key factor preventing what he described as a "polarization of the region." He said the two neighboring countries should embark on "integration processes" to spur their economic development.

Menagharishvili added that the three Transcaucasian states' integration in European structures would facilitate the settlement of numerous ethnic disputes in the region.

The Georgian minister was scheduled to meet with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders later in the day. Officials say the talks include preparations for a planned visit to Armenia by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.