Saakashvili, 40, a graduate of Columbia University in New York, won the Jan. 5 election with 53.4 percent of the vote. In his second term, he has vowed to push for deeper integration with Europe and to mend fences with neighboring Russia, which views Georgia's bid for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a security threat.
``We will reach out to Russia to promote better relations,'' Saakashvili said. ``We will continue our progress toward NATO and the European Union.'
Georgia's relations with Russia deteriorated rapidly in 2006 after Saakashvili's government publicly accused four Russian servicemen of spying. Russia responded by deporting thousands of Georgians, stopping all travel between the two countries and imposing an import ban on many Georgian products.
``In meetings today, the Georgian side expressed a desire to normalize relations with Russia,'' Lavrov said. ``I confirm that Russia is also willing to do so, but these words must be backed up by concrete actions.'' Lavrov held a series of meetings with Saakashvili, opposition leaders and Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II.
Voters in the Black Sea country of 4.6 million people went to the polls on Jan. 5 in a snap presidential election called by Saakashvili in early November after he declared a state of emergency in the wake of violent clashes between police and opposition protesters. In a plebiscite, 77 percent of voters also backed eventual NATO membership. '