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US Defense Chief Reaffirms Support for Georgian NATO Entry


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has reaffirmed American support for Georgia's NATO aspirations.

Gates, attending a NATO ministerial meeting Thursday in Budapest, also renewed U.S. condemnation of Russia for its military push into Georgia in August. He said the Russian incursion has undermined security in the Caucasus.

NATO has promised to grant both Georgia and Ukraine eventual membership, but declined in April to place either country on an immediate track to membership.

Meanwhile, Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quotes Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as warning that Georgia has not renounced the use of military force to reassert control over the pro-Russian breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Lavrov, speaking Thursday in Kyrgyzstan, also accused NATO and the United Nations Security Council of violating protocol by signing a cooperation agreement without giving Russia a chance to review the document.

A NATO spokesman rejected those accusations, telling the Associated Press that Russia was fully briefed ahead of the deal signed last month.

Moscow in September recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as separate states and says more than 7,000 troops will remain in the regions.

In another development, foreign ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States agreed to terminate Georgia's membership in the grouping of 12 former Soviet republics, effective in August 2009. Georgia announced its withdrawal from the group following Russia's August military push into Georgia.

Separately Thursday, the U.N. Security Council in New York is discussing the U.N. monitoring mission in Georgia.

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