ITAR-TASS News Agency
TASS
March 9, 2004 Tuesday

Georgia calls for joint border patrolling with Russia

Visiting Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said Tbilisi
continued to call for joint patrolling, with Russian border guards,
of the Russian-Georgian border, in order to prevent its crossing by
Chechen militants.

"My proposal received support in Moscow," Saakashvili told a news
conference here on Tuesday, adding that Chechen militants pose a
danger to Georgia's security.

Saakashvili affirmed that Georgia had put an end to the "policy of
animosity" towards Russia, pursued by the former leadership of the
country.

"It's extremely important for us to establish good relations with
Russia," he said.

"I invite to Georgia Russian businesspeople and Russian tourists,"
the president stressed. He stated the issue of the Russian military
bases on the Georgian territory "has been already settled" and "they
will be withdrawn."

Saakashvili urged to take a broader view of Georgia' relations with
Russia and not to focus exclusively on military facilities.

The president also said neither Tbilisi nor Washington had plans to
set up U.S. military bases in Georgia. Tbilisi gives priority to "the
European direction," and integration in the European Union, he
emphasized.

The United States has its own interests in the Caucasus, foremost in
the energy sphere, as well as in strengthening democracy and stable
government structures there. "It coincides with our general course
toward economic and democratic development of Georgia," Saakashvili
said.

The establishment in the Caucasus of a zone of democracy, stability
and fast economic growth, on the basis of rapprochement between
Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, is one of the main geopolitical
tasks of the incumbent Georgian leadership. Saakashvili said he had
had a meeting with Azerbaijan President Ilkham Aliyev, at which they
discussed this ambitious project. "I saw Ilkham Aliyev as a brilliant
and profound politician," the Georgian leader stressed.

He explained that Georgia and Azerbaijan would step up their
integration processes in the nearest future. "We are expecting
Armenia to join at some stage," he noted.

One of the prime objectives of this rapprochement is the
strengthening of democratic institutions in the Caucasus, which would
have a positive influence on the Middle East, the Georgian president
said.

Tbilisi is conducting a dialogue and consultations with all its
regions except Abkhazia. Saakashvili said he called for a peaceful
settlement of the Abkhazian conflict, but "much depends on Abkhazia
itself and on results of the forthcoming elections there."

As for Georgia's autonomous region of Abkhazia, Saakashvili said
relations with its leader Aslan Abashidze "have become softer".

He made it clear, however, that he did not rule out changes in
Adzharia's leadership after the upcoming elections.