Asia Crisis

NATO says its membership pledge to Georgia stands

(Adds quotes from U.S. and Russian envoys)

BRUSSELS, Aug 12 (Reuters) - NATO said on Tuesday its pledge that Georgia would one day become a member of the U.S.-led military alliance still stood, despite fighting with Russia over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

The U.S. envoy to NATO said several of its 26 member states believed the alliance should review its relationship with Russia as a result of the conflict.

"We think we need to look at how we are working with Russia," Kurt Volker told a news conference after NATO ambassadors met to discuss the conflict.

Georgia's NATO envoy said NATO's failure at a summit in April to give it and Ukraine a formal road map to prepare for membership had emboldened Russia to attack his country.

The U.S.-backed Georgian government had asked for help, including to repair military radars destroyed by Russian bombing, he said.

"We are working with different bodies in NATO, we are working with the military committee ... to discuss all possible measures including military assistance," Revaz Beshidze said, speaking after a meeting with the NATO ambassadors.

Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO awaited confirmation on the ground of Russia's order to cease military operations, but that would not be enough and the situation must revert to the status quo was before clashes began on Aug. 6.

"I think that the Bucharest communique stands. The allies have said in Bucharest that one day Georgia will join NATO," de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference.

He said the allies agreed that Moscow's use of force had been excessive and disproportionate and would consider urgently a series of Georgian requests for assistance. He added: "NATO is not seeking a direct role or a military role in this conflict."


Russia is fiercely opposed to Georgia's aspirations to join NATO, which would take the Western military alliance right up to its southern border. Many analysts believe that was one of the main causes of this month's fighting.

Beshidze told reporters Moscow had been emboldened by NATO's failure to agree on practical steps to prepare the two former Soviet republics for membership. "It was a big mistake made by allies ... We think Russia got this message as a green light."

On Monday, Moscow requested an emergency meeting of the NATO-Russia council to discuss the crisis, but after initially saying it could take place on Tuesday, NATO said it required more preparation.

Russia's NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin accused the United States of blocking the meeting. He insisted it should take place soon. Volker said the United States needed more time to prepare for a meeting with Russia.

Rogozin criticised de Hoop Scheffer for failing to mention Russian or South Ossetian victims of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's policies, which he compared to those of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

De Hoop Scheffer said the NATO allies stressed Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.

"It is very important that all parties go back to the status quo ante, that is as it existed on Aug. 6," he said.

Rogozin said Russian troop numbers would be reduced as calm returned but it was not possible to have Georgian peacekeepers in South Ossetia.

"They shot their brother Russian peacekeepers, then they finished them off with bayonets, so we are not going to see them there any more," he said.

The fighting began last week when Georgia launched an offensive to retake the rebel region, which broke away from Tbilisi in 1992. Moscow responded with a huge counter-offensive. (Writing by Paul Taylor and David Brunnstrom; editing by Andrew Dobbie)