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NATO chief, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, visits Georgia to show support 2008-09-15 19:35:17  

    TBILISI, Sept. 15 (Xinhua) --

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer began a visit to Georgia on Monday to extend the alliance's support for the Caucasus nation after its hostilities with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

    During the visit, the new NATO-Georgian Commission, set up by the alliance after the conflict with Russia, will convene for the inaugural meeting to assess damage from the conflict with Russia last month.

    De Hoop Scheffer and 26 NATO ambassadors accompanying him on the visit will meet with Georgian leaders, who are aspiring for NATO membership and assured by alliance leaders that Georgia will eventually join albeit without a concrete agenda for the membership.

    The NATO officials will also visit a number of sites struck by Russian forces.

    The visit comes more than a week after U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney offered strong U.S. endorsement for Georgia's bid for NATO membership on a trip to Tbilisi.

    Georgia hopes NATO will approve a Membership Action Plan for the country in December to set in motion formal talks to join the transatlantic military alliance. Some European members, however, have balked at the idea.

    Moscow has been watching warily NATO's expansion to incorporate some eastern European and Baltic states in recent years. Last week, Russia urged the alliance to delay the trip, but the alliance insisted that the visit is not aimed at undermining relations with Moscow.

    De Hoop Scheffer's visit coincides with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's tour to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a second breakaway Georgian province. Moscow has recognized both as independent states after the conflict with Tbilisi.

    Georgia rolled in troops in an effort to retake breakaway South Ossetia in early August, triggering a Russian military surge that evicted the Georgian forces.

    Russian forces withdrew from positions in western Georgia on Saturday, two days ahead of a deadline set in a new deal brokered by the European Union (EU).

    The EU is finalizing plans to deploy 200 EU observers in Georgia by Oct. 1. Under the deal, Russian troops will pull back from all of Georgia except South Ossetia and Abkhazia within 10 days after the EU monitors are in place.

Editor: Bi Mingxin

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