Officials from Georgia, Russia and the United States have started “consultations” in Geneva on October 15, co-hosted by the UN, EU and OSCE.
The talks will start with, what diplomats call, “a plenary session” which will probably be followed by an informal meeting with the participation of South Ossetian and Abkhaz representatives.
Reuters reported that organizers threw a news blackout around the talks and prevented photographers from taking photos of the delegations as they entered the UN building in Geneva.
“The talks are private and fairly complex. It is a decision of all of the parties,” a U.N. spokeswoman told reporters.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said on October 14 that the Abkhaz and South Ossetians “may be present in Geneva and may take part in informal discussions outside the plenary [session].”
“The U.S. does not plan to meet separately with them,” Sean McCormack added.
He said that Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary of state, would represent the U.S. at the talks. Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin will head the Russian delegation, while Deputy Foreign Ministers Giga Bokeria and Grigol Vashadze will represent Georgia.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who represents the EU presidency, indicated after meeting with OSCE chairmanship, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva on October 14 that the exact format of the talks was still open.
“We will leave those questions for tomorrow,” AFP quoted Kouchner as telling reporters after being asked about who exactly would participate in the Geneva talks. “We will see tomorrow how the various players react.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier issued a statement outlining its position on the matter: “Our position is clear and unchanged – without the participation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia it is impossible to work out any agreements to ensure their security. We will firmly proceed from this standpoint.”
Georgian officials insist that if the secessionists are to be represented at the talks, then so too should, what Tbilisi calls, the legitimate Abkhaz government, and the Tbilisi-backed provisional administration of South Ossetia. Dimitri Sanakoev, head of the provisional administration, and Malkhaz Akishbaia, head of the Abkhaz government-in-exile, are also in Geneva as part of the Georgian delegation.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said at a news conference after meeting with the French and Finnish foreign ministers, that the “international discussions” are “a beginning” and “should not be seen as the end.”
“I am encouraged by the general consensus among the parties to resolve this issue through dialogue,” he said. “It may take time, so we need to have some patience on addressing this issue. In a short time we need to try our best efforts among the parties concerned to restore confidence so that we can establish a good conflict resolution process in the end.”
The UN secretary-general said the parties “should not be too impatient or in a hurry to have a so-called ‘quick fix’ resolution.” He said “practical issues” should be addressed at the first stage of the talks.
He said that the accord reached by the French and Russian presidents "has given us a good framework.”
“It may be very difficult at the first initial stage, but as we progress through this expert, envoy level consultation, I am sure that we will be able to level up this dialogue at a ministerial and higher level. We need to be patient, even though it may take time,” he added.
U.S. State Department spokesman McCormack, meanwhile, said there were still “open questions” in terms of the Russian military presence in some areas, namely Akhalgori and upper Kodori Gorge, and “these are going to be issues that are taken up in Geneva.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, sees the talks as providing an opportunity to raise other issues. In a statement released on October 14, it outlined its priorities.
“We believe that these discussions should proceed dynamically and should be finalised by concrete agreements providing reliable guarantees for the security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” it said.
“The signing of an agreement on the non-use of force between Georgia and Abkhazia and Georgia and South Ossetia is a cornerstone of these [guarantees],” it continues. “Before these agreements go into force, Georgia should strictly fulfill its non-use of force commitment of which the European Union is a guarantor. In this regard, agreement on the concrete parameters of security in the security zones adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia is required.”
“It's reasonable to develop a series of measures to prevent a recurrence of the rampant Georgian militarization that led the current authorities to attack South Ossetia. A ban on the supply of heavy and offensive weapons to the Georgian government would be one obvious important measure.”