The U.S. supports granting Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia at the NATO summit in Wales in September, but there is no consensus within the allies on the issue, a senior U.S. State Department official said.
“Georgians are well aware that they do not have consensus in the Alliance and that they have work to do to convince, particularly some of our western European allies, of their worthiness for the Membership Action Plan,” Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said.
"We have been supporting them as they make this case directly to individual allies,” she said while speaking at a hearing of European subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 10.
Nuland also said that Georgia is on track of signing the Association Agreement with the EU, which “will deepen its relations with many of these same countries, so we are hopeful that will have a positive impact on how they assess its [Georgia’s] worthiness for MAP.”
Derek Chollet, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, told the same hearing that Georgia is “a terrific partner”, who fights in Afghanistan along with the U.S. troops without caveats.
“We are supportive of the Membership Action Plan,” he said. “But as you know very well this is an Alliance’s decision, that’s not a decision the United States will make alone. We work close with our Georgian partners through this process and it’s something that clearly will be a subject of conversation in months ahead as we lead up to the Wales summit.”
U.S. officials’ remarks followed a question from Senator Chris Murphy, who presided over the hearing and who said that although Georgia has yet to take some “serious steps” before it becomes a “full candidate for admission to NATO”, the Membership Action Plan would have lots of “hoops to jump through” and would represent a “very strong signal to both Russia and our allies that we are serious about keeping the opening door policy.”
Georgian Defense Minister, Irakli Alasania, said this week that Tbilisi has significantly intensified dialogue with some of the European states – those whom he described as “skeptics.”
In the course of last one month Alasania traveled to Italy, Spain and Slovakia, where he met his counterparts and raised the issue of MAP, according to the Georgian Ministry of Defense. He met his French counterpart in Paris in November, 2013. The Dutch Defense Minister visited Tbilisi earlier this month.
Georgian Foreign Minister, Maia Panjikidze, met his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on April 10.
Speaking at a news conference after the meeting Steinmeier spoke about possibility of increasing “substantially” cooperation between Georgia and NATO through number of measures. “I think that would be a milestone,” he said.
But what these measures might be remains unclear.
“Intensive discussions are underway about what will be Georgia’s next step on its path to NATO integration. Everyone actually agrees that this step will be made. NATO allies are expected to take this decision perhaps in June, but it is not either ruled out that discussions on the issue to continue in months ahead of the September summit,” Georgian Foreign Minister, Maia Panjikidze, said in Berlin.
NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said on April 2 that he expects Alliance’s foreign ministers to decide in June how to address at the summit in Wales open door policy, including in respect of Georgia.
At the Bucharest summit in 2008 NATO leaders decided that Georgia will join the NATO, but refused to grant MAP to Georgia. The Bucharest summit decision also says that MAP should be the next step for Georgia on its “direct way to membership”; references to the need of going through MAP phase before joining the alliance are also made in NATO’s subsequent decisions in respect of Georgia.
In an interview with the Georgian public radio on April 7, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said that there “actually is a consensus” within NATO that Georgia deserves “next step” on its path to NATO integration, but what will be this “next step” has yet to be decided.
“We launched very dynamic bilateral relations especially with those countries, which were not supportive to [granting MAP to] Georgia in 2008. Compared to 2008 now we have absolutely different situation and it is acknowledged by our western partners – first of all, Georgia took a great leap forward since  in defense reforms; we had peaceful transfer of power, which was a success of all the political forces and the entire Georgian society; third – Georgia is consistent in its policy towards Russia to de-escalate tensions,” Alasania said.
“Not only number of skeptics has decreased, actually there is a consensus among the members that Georgia deserves next step. What this instrument, next step, might be it should be agreed in next few months,” he added.
Alasania hailed NATO beefing up its eastern European defenses due to tension with Russia over Ukraine and said the Alliance should go further by considering “gradual creation of defense elements, among them through deployment of military assets, in partner countries.”