Georgia's conflict with Russia in its breakaway regions should not prevent the country from moving towards NATO membership, the United States ambassador to NATO said Wednesday.
"If Russia continues to keep these conflicts frozen (unresolved), and continues to prevent Georgia from fully exercising its territorial integrity ... should Georgia be disallowed when it comes to being invited to join NATO just because of that?" US Ambassador Kurt Volker said.
"We can't give Russia that veto over Georgia's aspirations," he said in an exclusive interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa .
The ambassador, however, stressed that any decision on Georgia's membership aspirations should be a joint NATO decision.
"It's got to be a consensus decision by NATO, there's a lot of other factors in play right now," he said.
Georgia is aiming for NATO membership, and in April the leaders of the alliance's 26 member states agreed that the Caucasian state would join the bloc at an unspecified time in the future.
However, they refused to give Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP) - seen as a precursor to eventual membership - on the spot. Germany, in particular, warned that the frozen conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia could become a security threat for NATO itself if Georgia were brought too close too fast.
Russia, meanwhile, warned that it would see any offer of a MAP to Georgia as a threat to its own security.
At the NATO summit in Bucharest, the alliance's foreign ministers were tasked with discussing the future of Georgia's MAP in December.
But after the bitter fighting in the breakaway territory of South Ossetia between Georgian and Russian troops, the question of Georgia's NATO hopes has jumped to the top of the alliance's agenda.
At an emergency meeting in Brussels on Tuesday, NATO foreign ministers called for the immediate creation of a NATO-Georgia commission to oversee future cooperation, and pledged to continue an "intensive engagement" with Georgia up to the December meeting."The commission will review our cooperation with Georgia following up from Bucharest ... What happens between now and December will be relevant to the way NATO decides about MAP," Volker said.
"Is Georgia ready to become a member of NATO? Nobody in April said they were ready to become a member now ... but we thought the way to help was to put them in a MAP. That still has been our view, we think that's the right choice," he said.