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NATO Says Membership Pledge To Georgia Stands, Despite Fighting

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says the offer to Georgia still stands.
BRUSSELS -- NATO says its April summit pledge that Georgia will one day become a member of the alliance still stands, despite fighting with Russia over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the U.S.-led military alliance awaited confirmation on the ground of Russia's order to cease military operations, but that was not enough and the situation must revert to the status quo was before clashes began on August 6.

"I think that the Bucharest communique stands. The allies have said in Bucharest that one day Georgia will join NATO," de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference after NATO ambassadors met Georgia's ambassador to discuss the crisis.

Georgia had made a number of requests to NATO for assistance, which the allies agreed to consider urgently, he said, reaffirming that Moscow's use of force had been massive and disproportionate.

But he added, "NATO is not seeking a direct role or a military role in this conflict."

Russian Objections

Russia is fiercely opposed to Georgia's aspirations to join NATO, which would take the Western military alliance right up to its southern border. Many analysts believe that was one of the key causes of this month's fighting.

Moscow requested on August 11 an emergency meeting of the NATO-Russia Council to discuss the crisis, but after initially saying it could take place on August 12, NATO said it required more preparation.

De Hoop Scheffer said the 27 NATO allies stressed Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.

"It is very important that all parties go back to the status quo ante, that is as it existed on August 6," he said.

Earlier, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced he had given the order to halt military activities in Georgia after achieving Moscow's objectives of punishing what he called Georgian aggression in South Ossetia.

Georgian Foreign Minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili had planned to attend the NATO meeting in person but was forced to cancel the trip because of the situation in Georgia, a spokesman for the Georgian Embassy said.

"None of the ministers are able to leave the capital right now," the spokesman said.

The fighting began last week when Georgia, a close U.S. ally, launched an offensive to retake the Russian-backed rebel region, which broke away from Georgian rule in 1992. Moscow responded with a huge counteroffensive.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, current holder of the European Union presidency, spearheaded an international peace mission on August 12 to try to halt the five-day-old Caucasus war, which has rattled world oil markets and unnerved the West.