NATO''s chief declared Tuesday that Russian tanks and troops cannot block Georgia from joining NATO, but he acknowledged internal disagreement over how long the pro-Western nation must wait for membership in the alliance.

In a strong message of support after Georgia''s debilitating war with Russia, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Georgia''s "road to NATO is still wide open."

"The process of NATO enlargement will continue, with due caution but also with a clear purpose — to help create a stable, undivided Europe," he said in a speech at Tbilisi State University.

Russia has adamantly opposed NATO membership for Georgia, whose location straddling a key westward energy route for Caspian and Central Asian oil and gas supplies gives it outsized geopolitical importance.

The NATO chief underlined that the alliance makes it own decisions.

"No other country will have a veto over that process, nor will we allow our strong ties to Georgia to be broken by outside military intervention and pressure," de Hoop Scheffer said. "Georgia has a rightful place in this Europe."

De Hoop Scheffer came to Georgia with the NATO ambassadors of all 26 allies. On Tuesday, the entire delegation visited Gori, a city targeted by Russian bombs and tanks during the war, which now houses a large tent camp for displaced people. The NATO delegation also toured the base of a Georgian brigade that was bombed.