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Europe

EU extends hand to South Caucasus, starting in Georgia

Catherine Ashton, the European Union commissioner for foreign affairs, visited Georgia on Thursday. She began discussions towards a political and economic alliance with President Mikheil Saakashvili.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili

Ashton was the latest western diplomat to visit Georgia

The European Union sought to forge closer ties with Georgia on Thursday, when EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton began talks towards an association agreement with President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The EU also announced similar discussions with Georgia's South Caucasus neighbors Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Ashton and Saakashvili held a joint press conference after the meeting in the Black Sea city of Batumi. "The association agreement is aimed at strengthening relations between the EU and Georgia," said Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

"It's good for you and it's good for us. Stability and prosperity here enhances stability and prosperity in the European Union," she added.

Saakashvili hailed the start of talks as an important step in the former Soviet state's efforts to move closer to the west. "Georgia is coming back to Europe," Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili has been courting the west recently, welcoming US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to Tbilisi. Relations between Tbilisi and Moscow remain frosty after a brief armed conflict in 2008.

Association agreements are treaties of political and economic cooperation between the European Union and non-bloc member states. Negotiations are expected to take between one and four years.

Talks on agreements with Ukraine and Moldova have already begun. EU negotiations with Azerbaijan will start in Baku on Friday and with Armenia in Yerevan next Monday.

Author: Thomas Sheldrick (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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