Sarkozy proposes closer EU ties with Georgia

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has suggested that Georgia and the European Union develop a special partnership. Sarkozy made the suggestion at a meeting with his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, on the eve of an EU-Russia summit.


PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy assured Georgia on Thursday that he would press for closer links between it and the European Union despite steps by the bloc to also resume talks on a partnership with Russia, officials said.

Sarkozy made the offer during a meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on the eve of an EU-Russia summit in the southern French city of Nice where the fallout from the summer war between Russia and Georgia will be on the agenda.

Officials at the French presidency said the timing of Sarkozy's meeting with Saakashvili amounted to a political signal.

"Even if tomorrow there is an important summit between the EU and Russia, that doesn't mean that Europe has abandoned its positions on Georgia, quite the contrary," said official who declined to be named.

EU states agreed on Monday to relaunch talks on a partnership pact with Moscow that had been frozen because of Russia's incursion into Georgia.

Russia sent troops into its small southern neighbour in August after Georgian government troops tried to re-take the pro-Russian rebel region of South Ossetia, which threw off Tbilisi's rule in 1991-92.

Russian troops drove the Georgian army out of South Ossetia and then pushed further into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further attacks. The West condemned Russia for a "disproportionate response".

"After the Georgian crisis this summer, the Europeans realised that they needed to develop cooperation between the EU and European countries that are not members like Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia," said an official at the French presidency.

France holds the rotating presidency of the 27-member EU  until the end of the year and Sarkozy took a leading role in diplomatic efforts to resolve the Georgian crisis, twice shuttling from Moscow to Tbilisi.

Officials from Sarkozy's office said the proposed EU-Georgia partnership would be similar to the agreement being negotiated between the bloc and Ukraine, a key transit route for energy supplies to the bloc.

The EU pledged in September to deepen ties with Ukraine and talks began in October towards giving Ukraine visa-free entry into the bloc for its citizens.

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