Nato still cautious over membership for Tbilisi

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The NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer condemned Russia's military action against Georgia but shied away from making any commitment to the ex-Soviet state on when it will be invited to join the military alliance.

In Brussels, the European Commission announced €500m ($710m) over two years in aid to help Georgia rebuild after its brief war with Russia last month, and EU foreign ministers rubber-stamped the deployment of at least 200 EU ceasefire monitors to Georgia.

Mr De Hoop Scheffer was in Tbilisi to underscore Nato support for Georgia after a five-day war in which Russia drew Western condemnation by sending in troops to crush a Georgian attempt to retake the rebel South Ossetia region.

But he made no mention of whether Georgia will be given a membership action plan – a road map for accession – when Nato meets for a summit in December. Alliance members are split over the wisdom of admitting Georgia in the near future.

"Russia's use of force was disproportionate and Russia must now comply with all elements of the six-point plan brokered by French President Sarkozy," Mr De Hoop Scheffer said, referring to a ceasefire agreement France brokered on behalf of the EU.

"At the same time, despite the difficult situation, we expect Georgia to firmly stay the course of democracy and reform," the Nato chief told a meeting of ambassadors of the 26 member nations.

"Dedication to these fundamental values remains essential for Georgia on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration."

Signalling Russia's weight in the region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday met separatist officials in South Ossetia, one of two Georgian regions Moscow has recognised as independent states. Mr De Hoop Scheffer and Nato ambassadors were in Tbilisi for the inaugural session of the Nato-Georgia Commission, conceived in the aftermath of the conflict to bolster ties with Tbilisi.