Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European affairs, said Georgia is part of Europe and a potential member of NATO.
Addressing an international forum on Eastern Europe in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, Fried said Washington backed Georgia's ambition to join the Western security alliance. The ex-Soviet state has been looking to integrate into Europe and NATO since its pro-Western leadership came to power on the back of the bloodless "rose revolution" in 2003.
Fried said Georgia needed to improve its democratic credentials before it could join NATO, and praised the progress that the South Caucasus nation, home to 5 million, had already made.
He said much would depend on Georgia's future leadership and on the people, and stressed that a functioning opposition is a key sign of a healthy democracy.
A Georgian opposition leader, former defense minister Irakly Okruashvili, was arrested in late September after accusing President Mikheil Saakashvili of corruption and plotting the murder of a political opponent, an allegation denied by the president. Okruashvili was released on bail and flown to Europe earlier Thursday, one day ahead of an opposition rally set for Friday.
The Georgian opposition plans to campaign for parliamentary elections to be held in spring 2008. President Saakashvili, however, has proposed extending lawmakers' term from four to five years, which would allow parliamentary and presidential elections to be held simultaneously.
Under the current constitution, parliamentary polls are held every four years, and presidential elections every five years. ( RIA )