NATO Chief to Take Team to Georgia

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he would lead a team to Georgia on Monday to show the alliance's support after Russia used "disproportionate force" in attacking the small country.

De Hoop Scheffer, who will be accompanied by the ambassadors of all 26 members of the alliance, said the group would meet with the government, opposition members and aid organizations.

The visit, on Monday and Tuesday, is "to show our support for Georgia after what we have seen from the Russian side," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters Friday in Riga, Latvia.

"We have our fundamental differences with the Russian Federation. We had them already before they were embarking on disproportionate force in Georgia. ... But we do not consider Russia a threat," de Hoop Scheffer said, after talks with Latvian President Valdis Zatlers.

The NATO delegation is scheduled to meet with Georgian officials in the capital, Tbilisi, and also visit the Georgian city of Gori.

In April, NATO declined to offer Georgia a road map for membership, partly because of concerns about angering Russia, but the alliance has assured Georgia that it will eventually join.

NATO's hesitation at its April summit emboldened Russia to invade Georgia, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an interview published Saturday.

"I think if we had taken a stronger position on the membership of these countries, we would not have had the Russian aggression," he told the National Post newspaper. "I think that showing weakness or hesitation encourages this type of behavior on the part of Russia."

Harper expressed respect for Russia but said whether or not countries join NATO was a decision between the alliance and that country.

"Russia does not have a right to dictate decisions outside its own borders," he said.

The high-level NATO visit this week is seen as giving a boost to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili urged NATO on Thursday not to push his country away, warning that showing weakness would cause a "never-ending story" of Russian aggression.

"If NATO sends a sign of weakness -- and clearly this invasion was intended to deter, to scare NATO away -- if NATO gets scared away, then this will be a never-ending story," Saakashvili said. He said Russia had invaded Georgia to keep it out of NATO.

In Riga, de Hoop Scheffer on Friday also met with the foreign ministers of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The three Baltic states, all NATO members, have troubled relations with Russia and have been among the loudest critics of Russian actions in Georgia.

De Hoop Scheffer said there should be no doubt that NATO "will do what is necessary" to protect its members but added that there was no need for any special defense planning for the Baltics.

"I do not think that we need new systems," he said.

Anxiety toward Moscow in Estonia and Latvia runs especially deep because they have large Russian minorities. Russia justified its attack on Georgia as necessary to protect its citizens.

AP, Reuters