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NATO-Georgia Commission likely to be set up

NATO planned to send a strong signal of support for Georgia on Tuesday, and the United States urged allies to boost military ties with the former Soviet republic on Russia's southern border.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was backing the setting up of a permanent NATO-Georgia Commission to solidify ties between the Western alliance and Georgia. Diplomats said Washington also supports increasing training for the Georgian military.

At the same time, NATO foreign ministers were discussing possibly scaling back high-level meetings and military cooperation with Russia if it does not abandon crucial positions across Georgia. But there were differences within the alliance over how far to go in punishing Moscow.

NATO is awaiting Russia's promised military pullout after a brief war with the ex-Soviet republic - a conflict that has exacerbated tensions between Moscow and the West.

But as the NATO ministers gathered for the meeting Tuesday in Brussels, Russia's military held onto crucial positions across Georgia.

NATO was expected to restate its commitment to eventually offering alliance membership to Georgia - despite Russia's fierce opposition.

"We said (Georgia) would eventually become a member of NATO alongside Ukraine, and that's certainly the position that we will be advocating today," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.

Alliance ministers also planned to offer Georgia expert help in planning repairs to its power network, airports, hospitals and other infrastructure.

But allies differed over how far NATO should go in curtailing relations with Russia over its invasion and then apparent failure to stick by a cease-fire agreement, which calls on both sides to pull back troops to positions held before the violence flared on Aug. 7.

The United States wants NATO to reconsider planned activities under a cooperation agreement with Russia - from military exercises to ministerial meetings - and decide case by case whether to go ahead with them, depending on Moscow's compliance with the peace deal.

The NATO ministers agreed pressure on Moscow should be maintained, but some - including those from Germany, France and Italy - have expressed concern about making any moves that would cut ties altogether. Despite the differences, the ministers appeared keen to present a united front.

"It's obvious that we can't have business as usual," Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said. "There is disproportionate use of violence, and we should send also a clear signal that ... the Russian troops should withdraw."

"There are different sensibilities on this, there are states who want to this process to move faster," Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado said. "The alliance has to take united, firm position, but without being aggressive."

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Russia had agreed to allow 20 more international military monitors in and around Georgia's disputed region of South Ossetia.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, the current OSCE chairman, said the plan calls for the observers to be sent immediately to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Georgia still must approve the plan.

The organization already has nine observers based in South Ossetia, as part of its 200-member mission in Georgia. But it wants eventually to have 100 military monitors to help oversee the cease-fire, Stubb said.

"We need to open the door to get the military monitors in now," he said. Stubb was also attending the NATO meeting, though Finland is not a member of the alliance.

The 56-nation OSCE has been engaged in promoting a peaceful settlement to tensions in South Ossetia since the end of a separatist war in the early 1990s left the region with de facto independence.

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