“Rice keeps up pressure on Moscow ahead of NATO meet” “Georgia will become a member of NATO if it wants to — and it does want to.” (Condoleeza Rice – Angela Merkel)




German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday before talks with Saakashvili: “Georgia will become a member of NATO if it wants to — and it does want to.”

It was one of the strongest statements yet of support for Georgia’s NATO membership bid.

Rice also said Friday during a press conference in Tbilisi that she was certain NATO would remain open to embracing both Georgia and Ukraine as members.

She again hinted that Russia must face “consequences” for the five-day war which erupted as Russian forces sought to drive off a Georgian army assault against pro-Moscow separatists in Georgia’s region of South Ossetia.

Rice did not specify what reprisals might follow, but US officials have mentioned in past days Moscow’s bid to join several exclusive clubs such as the World Trade Organization.

Others have hinted that Moscow could be barred from the G8, which may return to being the Group of Seven most industrialized nations as in 1997.

“You cannot on one hand participate in and be a responsible member of institutions that are democratic and that underscore democratic values and on the other hand acting this way toward one of your neighbors,” Rice said in Tbilisi.

From Brussels, Rice is due to travel to Warsaw which, to Moscow’s fury, signed a key missile defense shield pact with Washington only days after the start of Russia’s military operation.

“Poland is an independent country and it is an ally of the United States, and it is a democratic country to whose security the US is committed through article 5 of the Nato Treaty,” Rice said in Tbilisi.

“The arrangements therefore the US makes with its Polish allies to make sure that Poland is capable of defending itself, capable of being an active ally, are frankly, between Poland and the United States.”

Poland, a former Soviet satellite and now staunch US ally which joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004, had earlier appeared reticent over the deal.

But the Bush administration is wary of aggravating the situation in the region any further and it seems unlikely that Rice will visit Ukraine, another pro-West former Soviet republic, in the coming days.

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