Tbilisi`s U.N. envoy said on Monday that he expects U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will maintain strong U.S. support for the NATO ambitions of Georgia, still reeling from a military defeat by Russia, Reuters reported.

But Georgian U.N. Ambassador Irakli Alasania acknowledged that it may take longer than previously expected for the former Soviet republic to get a formal invitation to join NATO.

He was asked if he expected Obama would be less helpful than the Republican presidential candidate and long-time Russia critic Sen. John McCain would have been had he won the Nov. 4 election. Alasania said he expected equally stalwart support from Obama.

"The support to Georgia and its NATO aspirations is bipartisan in the U.S.," he told reporters.

He said he was unaware of any direct contact between Obama and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili since the election.

But he made clear that Tbilisi was in contact with the incoming leaders long before the poll. Vice President-elect Joe Biden met with Saakashvili in New York during the U.N. General Assembly in September and had visited Georgia during the war.

Outgoing President George W. Bush and his administration have pushed for swift acceptance of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, a position that failed to generate unanimous support among European NATO members and put a strain on ties with Russia long before its five-day war with Georgia in August.

With the Bush administration`s influence wavering, U.S. and European officials have said Washington was now studying whether NATO could give Georgia something short of a formal path to membership to satisfy European opposition to offering Tbilisi a so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP).

Alasania made clear he remained optimistic that Tbilisi and Ukraine would eventually be invited to join, but he indicated that it might not come at a NATO foreign ministers meeting next month in Brussels as Tbilisi had hoped for before the war.

"The process may take a little bit longer," he said. "Our security and defense infrastructure were badly damaged. So we`ll need some time ... to recover and to meet the standards that NATO countries are setting forward to us."

"I`m not worried about the eventual membership of Georgia," he added. "This political decision has been made."


The Western security alliance decided at its April summit not to offer Georgia a formal MAP because of German and French objections that have only intensified since Russia invaded its southern neighbor in August.

The summit communique asserted that Georgia and Ukraine "will become members of NATO" but postponed any decision until the ministerial meeting on Dec. 2-3.

The Georgian envoy was asked about media reports that monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) present at the time war broke out have questioned Georgian claims that Russia, not Georgia, started the war.

Alasania said Tbilisi wanted an international investigation of the outbreak of violence in August. He said he stood by Georgia`s position that Russia had provoked the conflict.

Russia invaded Georgia in August to thwart an attempt by Tbilisi to re-establish control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which has since declared independence along with another breakaway enclave, Abkhazia.

Both sides accuse the other of sparking the war, which resulted in a humiliating defeat for Georgia.

If Georgia was found to have started the war, that could strengthen the position of those NATO members which would prefer to keep Georgia at bay to avoid provoking Moscow.