The U.S. believes that it makes sense to look for ways to internationalize the presence of peacekeeping forces in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones, but there should be no radical steps in order to avoid instability, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza said on November 17.
In Tbilisi Bryza met with the Georgian President, the Prime Minister, and the newly appointed Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili. On November 18 he plans to travel to Sokhumi and meet with Abkhaz officials.
At a news conference in Tbilisi convened before talks with Defense Minister Kezerashvili, Bryza spoke of the secessionist conflicts, Georgia’s stance on Russia’s WTO accession, Tbilisi’s cooperation with Iran over gas supplies and recent polls in breakaway South Ossetia.
“We have a shared interest in security, which means helping Georgia to restore its territorial integrity, meaning peaceful resolution of conflicts. We have shared interests on energy, which means helping to move Caspian oil and gas to global markets in a way that enhances Euro-Atlantic security, which means first and foremost making sure that Georgia takes care of its domestic energy needs this winter and in future winters. And we have a shared set of interests in helping Georgia succeed with its remarkable democratic and market economic reforms… But of course there is always more work to do in building democratic institutions and increasing the efficiency of the market system,” Bryza said in his opening remarks at the news conference.
The U.S. diplomat said that Georgia is currently in “a difficult position” with gas supplies. Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said it will sell 1 000 cubic meters of gas for USD 230 to Georgia, and will reduce the price only if Tbilisi sells “some of its assets.”
“Georgia finds itself in a difficult position with gas supplies, as does Armenia. Georgia is in a situation now where Georgia’s major gas supplier saying: you either take price we tell you you must pay, or you must give up your strategic energy infrastructure, or you won’t receive gas. That is a very difficult position,” Bryza said.
Georgia is now in talks with Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkey in an attempt to receive an alternative source of gas.
“While we are pursuing our policy towards Iran, we certainly do not want Georgia, or Armenia or any other country to be in a situation where it has no energy for the winter,” Bryza said.
He said that the United States not only shares Georgia’s objective to diversify its energy supplies, “but we have been working on doing that now for over decade.”
“And when we do [this] our goal is not to enter into any sort of zero-sum game of competition with Russia or with any other countries,” Bryza added.
Although Georgian PM Zurab Nogaideli said on November 13 that Tbilisi will give its go-ahead to Russia’s WTO accession only after Moscow follows it trade commitments with Georgia, some opposition politicians in Georgia have already expressed fears that Tbilisi may give up its hard-line stance after the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement in principle over Russia’s WTO accession.
When asked whether the U.S. will ask Tbilisi to compromise over the issue, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State said that just as the United States worked for years and completed its negotiations with Russia on bilateral trade issues, so should Georgia complete “its own negotiations with Russia on Russia’s WTO accessions reflecting Georgia’s own concerns.”
International Police Force Needed in Abkhazia
Matthew Bryza said that an international police force is needed in the Abkhaz conflict zone to fight crime and help the return of internally displaced persons.
“One of the preconditions for resolving that conflict is for internally displaced persons to be able to return to the Gali district and other districts of Abkhazia. Right now IDPs are not able to return. The major reason is that they feel there is too much criminality in the Gali district. That is not the fault of the CIS peacekeepers [composed of Russian servicemen], because their mandate is not to fight crime. So there needs to be some other group, and an international police group that will fight crime to create conditions for IDPs to return, and that way we could begin to get towards a settlement of the conflict. Any move to recognize [Abkhazia’s] independence will destroy any hope to resolve that conflict,” Bryza said.
He said that the United States recognizes the Georgian Parliament’s sovereign desire to replace the current Russian-led peacekeeping operations in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones, but “there is always the question of what the government’s right is and what an effective way to proceed is.”
“The question is, how can we avoid a situation where we create instability through a radical, rapid change,” he added.
He also reiterated the U.S. position that there is “absolutely no reason to believe there could be any parallel or precedent set in Kosovo that could apply to any other conflict.”
Bryza noted that two referendums in South Ossetia with different results showed that the staging of a referendum in “extremely complex situations” does not help to resolve conflicts.
“What happened in South Ossetia is ambiguous, I mean the referendum. One group, the South Ossetians, voted in one particular way without any credible international monitoring of the process. The other major ethnic grouping, which was unable to participate [in the first referendum], organized its own referendum with a completely different result. I think that shows that this process of referendum in the middle of extremely complex situations, where one ethnic group has been moved out in the middle of the conflict, does not provide any necessary precedent or guaranteed way to resolve these conflicts,” Bryza said.