Georgia's President Takes Bid To Join NATO to Washington

APBush sharing a light moment with Saakashvili in Washington on Wednesday.
WASHINGTON -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili warned NATO countries not to appease Russia by rejecting his country's hopes to join the alliance.

Following a White House meeting Wednesday, he was sanguine that President George W. Bush could persuade NATO allies to put Georgia on track for membership when Bush attends NATO's summit in Bucharest, Romania, April 2 to 4.

A strong supporter of Georgia's aspirations, Bush is expected to meet resistance from some European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Georgia's chances of joining a program leading to NATO membership will require the unanimous support of all 26 member countries.

Bush said he would press the issue at the summit.

"I believe that NATO benefits with a Georgia membership. I believe Georgia benefits from being a part of NATO," Bush said at a joint appearance with Saakashvili.

Saakashvili said efforts to resolve differences with Russia over Georgia's two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had become entangled in Russia's disagreement with Western countries over Kosovo. Russia has warned that Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia last month, and the West's recognition of it, could fuel other separatist movements.

On Thursday Saakashvili met U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had just returned from Moscow.

The State Duma will vote Friday on a resolution calling for the Kremlin to consider recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia if Georgia joins NATO. The resolution is not binding.

AP, Reuters