TBILISI, DFWatch – NATO’s Secretary General on Friday left Georgia for Azerbaijan, continuing his tour of the Caucasus.

In a posting on Facebook Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that his traveling in the South Caucasus region is important for Euro-Atlantic security and because NATO values its relationship with all of the countries in the region.

“NATO is assisting Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan with defense and security sector reforms and we encourage the partners to keep up the momentum of reforms. Together we want to enhance stability in this region and promote democracy, freedom and human rights. The South Caucasus has great economic potential, but that potential is blocked by unresolved conflicts. Tensions in this region must be reduced and concrete steps must be taken to promote regional cooperation and reconciliation.

Since I am in Tbilisi today I would like to take the opportunity to thank the government and people of Georgia for their support. Georgia is a special partner for NATO and a model of commitment. Georgia is making a very significant contribution to our mission in Afghanistan. This autumn Georgia will become the largest non-NATO contributor.”

Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Dimitry Shashkin, Georgia’s Defense Minister accompanied Georgian soldiers to Afghanistan on Thursday. A ceremony was held at a mixed air base.

The Secretary General appealed to soldiers and thanked the country for its contribution to ISAF.

Georgia’s 31. and 12. light infantry battalions have left for Afghanistan. They will serve in Helmand province with an American contingent and for six months carry out operations with American marines.

At a press conference with President Mikheil Saakashvili, Fogh Rasmussen said Georgia’s reforms bring the country closer to NATO.

“Georgia is a special partner for NATO and a model of commitment,” he said.

The Secretary General also remarked that NATO continues to support the reforms and is looking to Georgia to keep up ‘the momentum of democratic reforms.’ He said the upcoming parliamentary election and the presidential election in late 2013 will be a litmus test for Georgian democracy.

“I trust that all political players in Georgia will play a responsible role in this process,” he said, “the future is in your hands. But know this – you have a friend in NATO – and a future home in NATO.”

Rasmussen said Georgia will surely become a NATO member. He was asked whether the war in 2008 was aimed at destroying Georgia’s accession to NATO, to which he answered that ‘in this case this plan failed.’

“Georgia will become a NATO member, since it is the right of any state, if certain requirements are met, and no third country can prevent it,” he added.