BRUSSELS -- NATO has come out strongly in support of Georgia in its conflict with Russia.
Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said after a meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels on August 12 that the war has not damaged Georgia's chances of joining the alliance.
He noted that while a decision has not yet been taken on a Membership Action Plan for Georgia, NATO still stands behind a pledge made by allies at the Bucharest summit in April 2008 that, one day, Georgia will join the alliance. He added that no ally wants to "take anything away" from that pledge.
He also said Ukraine's prospects for joining NATO are not dependent on Georgia's performance.
The NATO chief said the alliance envoys were also given a "dramatic" briefing on recent events by Georgia's ambassador to NATO, Revax Beshidze. Beshidze stood in for his country's foreign minister, who had to cancel his visit at the last minute.
NATO has condemned what it called Russia's use of disproportionate and excessive force in the conflict.
De Hoop Scheffer said NATO allies had reaffirmed their "strong support" to mediation efforts led by the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He said NATO wants an immediate cease-fire and a return to the "status quo ante" -- the situation as it stood on August 6, before the start of the hostilities.
Although he welcomed news of a Russian cease-fire, the NATO chief said that would not be enough. Russia must also respect Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and acknowledge that South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain parts of Georgia.
However, de Hoop Scheffer ruled out any role in the conflict, military or otherwise.
"NATO, we should realize, NATO has no military mandate in the [South Caucasus]," he said. "So if you're saying NATO can't resolve this question militarily, [then] you're right. We can't. And that is not NATO's ambition and that's not in NATO's mandate."
The secretary-general also said it was too early to say who is to blame for the conflict, but noted that Georgia is a "friend" of NATO, while Russia has clearly violated the terms of its 1992 Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeeping mandate.
A planned NATO-Russia meeting on August 12 failed to materialize after the two sides failed to agree on the agenda. De Hoop Scheffer said more preparation is needed.