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Bush Backs Georgia's Bid for NATO Membership


President Bush is backing Georgia's bid to join the NATO alliance. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Mr. Bush met in the Oval Office with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili ahead of next month's NATO summit in Romania.

President Bush told President Saakashvili that he will go to the NATO summit in Bucharest ready to tell other heads of state that he supports Georgia for NATO membership.

"I believe that NATO benefits with a Georgian membership," he said. "I believe Georgia benefits from being a part of NATO."

Speaking to reporters after their meeting, President Saakashvili thanked the American leader for his support and said the United States and Georgia share a strong diplomatic and military partnership.

"I am very proud that Georgian troops in Iraq are not just present there protecting people but are having successes in doing do," he said. "And certainly this is something that we will stay for generations."

The two leaders also discussed conflict in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Those areas declared independence from the central government in Tbilisi in the early 1990s.

Georgia accuses Russia of backing the separatists and vows to bring both regions under the control of the central government.

Mr. Bush says he and Mr. Saakashvili discussed how the dispute can be resolved diplomatically.

"We talked about the need for there to be peaceful resolutions of conflicts while recognizing the territorial integrity and sovereign borders of Georgia," he said.

Before his visit to Washington, President Saakashvili met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over Russia's decision last week to lift trade sanctions on Abkhazia.

Moscow says it no longer feels bound by a 1996 agreement to impose economic penalties against separatist regions in former Soviet states.

Washington says the decision is alarming and could make it easier for Abkhaz separatists to acquire weapons.

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