GEORGIA: Integration into Europe and friendship with Russia were identified as principal aims of Georgia's foreign policy by Mr Mikhail Saakashvili, who was sworn in as the country's new President yesterday, writes Deaglán de Bréadún, Foreign Affairs Correspondent, in Tbilisi.
His oath of office included a pledge to defend the "unity and indivisibility" of Georgia's national territory, which is seriously threatened by separatist movements.
Mr Saakashvili also signed a decree to introduce a new national flag. The medieval design includes a cross similar to one used during the Crusades.
The colourful inauguration ceremony, attended by more than 20,000 people, featured march-pasts by members of the Georgian armed forces, flyovers by military aircraft and music by a number of bands and orchestras.
In a gesture to neighbouring Russia, the new President said: "Georgia does not need Russia as an enemy. We need Russia as a friend." Georgia would be "a steady ally" of all its friends and neighbours. "In the meantime, it does not forget to regain its place in the European family, in the European civilisation which it deserves but which was lost several centuries ago. As a country of ancient Christian civilisation, we must regain this place.
"Our steady course is towards European integration. It is time Europe finally saw and valued Georgia and took steps towards us. We can already see the first signs of it. It is not accidental that we hoisted the flag of Europe here today. This flag is also Georgia's flag because it demonstrates the essence of our civilisation, our culture, our history and the horizons and views of our future."
The US Secretary of State, Mr Colin Powell; the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr Igor Ivanov; the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, on behalf of Ireland's European presidency; the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Dr Solomon Passy, and the Armenian Foreign Minister, Mr Vartan Oskanian, were among many political leaders who attended the events in the Georgian capital. However, the previous president of Georgia, Mr Eduard Shevardnadze, was not invited to the inauguration ceremony, although he was in Tbilisi yesterday.
Mr Cowen and Mr Powell met for about 30 minutes. Afterwards the Minister confirmed that there would be an EU-US summit in June, during Ireland's European presidency. But he said "no decisions" had been taken about the location, whether it would be in Ireland or elsewhere.
The Minister said both the EU and the US wanted to work with all countries in the Caucasus region to ensure peace and prosperity, but he warned that the reform process must continue in the region. "It is very important that the engagement of the international community here is reciprocated by a reform programme."
Pointing out that substantial sums had been "made available" to Georgia by the EU over the past decade, Mr Cowen said, "We will have discussions with the government here and see in what way we can continue that level of commitment and engagement."
Speaking to reporters on his way to Tbilisi, Mr Powell indicated some doubt on whether the deposed Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, as distinct from the capability and intention to develop such weapons.
"... the open question is: how many stocks they had, if any. And if they had any, where did they go? And if they didn't have any, then why wasn't that known beforehand," Mr Powell said.