Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says he is optimistic that his country will eventually be invited to join NATO.  Lisa Bryant has more for VOA from Paris, where NATO officials have recommended that the organization intensify talks with Tbilisi.

President Saakashvili says he believes Georgia fulfills the criteria for membership in NATO, although he acknowledges the 26-member alliance is experiencing a kind of "membership fatigue" after admitting seven Eastern European countries in 2004.

Answering questions at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, Mr. Saakashvili said that Georgia's NATO membership offered Europe, in particular, a number of advantages.  Among them: access to the Black Sea and to Central Asia, and the chance to forge closer ties with Middle Eastern countries.

Georgia is eager to join NATO and the European Union - although Mr. Saakashvili admitted it would be difficult to join the European bloc in the near future.

NATO may be another matter.  Georgia is one of 20 countries with a special partner status with the alliance. 

Georgian media report that during a meeting in Paris this week, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly recommended that member governments launch a so-called intensified dialogue with Georgia this summer.  The talks are considered the first step to possible membership.

Mr. Saakashvili, 38, was elected Georgia's president two years ago, following a popular uprising that ousted long-time leader Eduard Shevardnadze.

In wide-ranging remarks, President Saakashvili called for more European involvement in resolving Georgia's separatist conflicts, and he defended Georgia's record in tackling corruption and judicial reform.  Critics say more reforms are needed.