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Georgia PM optimistic on restoring Russia ties

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Georgia's Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili Tuesday expressed optimism about restoring ties with arch-foe Russia while pledging to keep up ex-Soviet state's pro-Western course.

At a press conference convened to sum up his 100 days in power since the surprise win in October parliamentary polls of his Georgian Dream coalition, Ivanishvili said: "Europe is what Georgia belongs to."

He expressed hope that "within 20 years Georgia will be a fully-fledged member of Europe."

But he also said he was "optimistic" about restoring ties with Russia severed following the 2008 war the two neighbours fought over Georgia's breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"I am optimistic. With careful and measured actions" ties can be restored, he said, adding the process should start by reforging severed trade links.

"Huge results need more time," he said. "Russians as well as Georgians want our relationships be restored," he said.

Ivanishvili -- a tycoon who bitterly opposes the anti-Russian rhetoric of President Mikheil Saakashvili -- says he is ready to engage Moscow in direct negotiations, vowing however to continue Saakashvili's bid to join NATO and the European Union.

His remarks came just a day after Georgian officials held talks in Moscow to agree a mechanism on lifting the Russian trade embargo on Georgian wine and mineral water.

Russia's consumer watchdog chief Gennady Onishchenko said in Moscow that imports of Georgian wines -- which are highly-prized in the former Soviet Union -- could resume in the spring if all the conditions are met.

But Ivanishvili has so far offered little sign of compromise in the political row over Abkhazia and South Ossetia which Tbilisi no longer controls and Moscow has recognised as independent.

His government believes that economic and cultural ties with Moscow can be restored soon but a return to full diplomatic relations will take much longer.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130205/georgia-pm-optimistic-restoring-russia-ties