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Tbilisi and Washington have agreed that a Georgian military contingent
Tbilisi and Washington have agreed that a Georgian military contingent will stay in Iraq until the end of 2008, a Georgian first deputy defense minister said on Friday.

The agreement was reached during talks between U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was on an official visit to the United States on March 17-20.

"The American side requested that this [Georgian] contingent stay [in Iraq] until the end of 2008," Batu Kutelia told a news conference in Tbilisi. "We will certainly consider this issue."

Georgia's military contingent is the third largest foreign military deployment in Iraq and numbers 2,000 soldiers. Georgia earlier said it could withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of this summer.

Kutelia said the U.S. had offered to expand logistics and training support for the Georgian Armed Forces, "which is very important in terms of establishing closer ties with NATO."

Georgia is counting on U.S. support in its bid to join NATO. On February 14, Georgia handed a letter to NATO from Saakashvili asking for the country to be accepted into the Western military alliance's membership plan.

Georgia has sought NATO membership ever since Saakashvili came to power in 2003. Seventy-seven percent of Georgians are in favor of the former Soviet republic joining NATO, according to the results of a national referendum held on the issue earlier this year.


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