TBILISI: The United States backs Georgia's bid to join NATO but wants to see "much more" progress on democracy, visiting Vice-President Joe Biden said in Tbilisi Thursday.
In an address to the parliament in the ex-Soviet republic, Biden said the administration of President Barack Obama backs Georgia's aspiration to join the Atlantic alliance, a cause of friction with Russia in recent years.
US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili talk during their meeting in Tbilisi July 23, 2009. [Agencies]
"We understand that Georgia aspires to join NATO," Biden said, adding: "We fully support that aspiration."
He also reiterated long-standing US policy on Georgia's territorial integrity, saying Washington sought a "free, secure, democratic, united Georgia."
Moscow has recognized two rebel regions of Georgia - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - as independent states, prompting condemnation from the West.
Biden acknowledged the United States was working on "maintaining" the Georgian military but said these efforts were limited to "planning, training, organization" - not supply of weapons.
US officials were denying that Georgia's president had asked Biden for advanced US weaponry and unarmed observers to help monitor a cease-fire along the boundaries ofAbkhazia and South Ossetia.
A senior US administration official speaking on condition of anonymity had told reporters that President Mikhail Saakashvili had made the requests during his talks yesterday with Biden. The official later said he had spoken in error.
Another official, Biden's national security adviser Anthony Blinken, said neither subject was raised.
Biden's visit to Georgia and a trip to Ukraine earlier this week were aimed to reassure the two countries that the United States would not abandon them as President Obama seeks to repair badly strained relations with Russia.
Georgia was battered in a fierce, five-day war with Russia last August, and a number of former Soviet-bloc countries have voiced nervousness that Obama's drive to improve ties with the Kremlin could leave them vulnerable.
Georgian officials said US supply of arms to Georgia was not specifically discussed but was also not beyond the realm of possibility.
"The US-Georgia strategic partnership charter envisages, among other issues, that the United States will help Georgia to further develop its defence capabilities," parliamentary speaker David Bakradze said.
Biden also met with some of Saakashvili's political opponents, who say the the Georgian president carries the blame for the disastrous war with Russia and who accuse him of authoritarianism.
"We received a concrete pledge... that the development of democratic reforms in Georgia will be a major determinant in Georgian-US relations in the future," Irakli Alasania, one of the participants in the meeting, said afterwards.
AFP - AP