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Q&A: 'New Context' for Geneva Talks after Non-Use of Force Pledges
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 15 Dec.'10 / 10:09

  • 'Non-Use of force pledge in package with int'l security guarantees';
  • 'We can cautiously be optimistic';
  • 'Flexible informal framework';
  • 'Optimistic about OSCE mission’s return in the long run';

Georgia's unilateral declaration on non-use of force creates "new context", which can serve to further progress in Geneva Discussions, co-chairs of the talks, launched two months after the August war, say.

The three co-chairs of the Geneva discussions, Pierre Morel of EU, Antti Turunen of UN and Bolat Nurgaliyev, the special envoy of outgoing Kazakh OSCE chairmanship, spoke on December 7 with Civil.ge about the implications non-use of force pledge may have on the Geneva discussions, as well as about the prospects of restoration of OSCE mission in Georgia.

The diplomats were in Tbilisi after talks in Moscow and also visited Tskhinvali and Sokhumi in run up to fourteenth round of Geneva talks planned for December 16.

The following is a transcript of the interview:

Q.: President Saakashvili made unilateral pledge on non-use of force on November 23, later reiterated at the OSCE Astana summit. It was then followed by response from Tskhinvali, Sokhumi and Moscow. This has long been one of the key issues in Geneva Discussions with the participants failing to achieve an agreement. What practical meaning this declaration may have on talks in Geneva and do you think it may be the sign of any breakthrough?

Pierre Morel: We have taken note and we are not making statement speaking of a breakthrough. But what is clear is that it is the main subject on which we've been working for this year. We had plenty of other subjects, but this question of non-use of force and international security arrangements has been the matter we have tried to work very methodically - reviewing different options, getting proposals, comparing proposals, seeing the pros and cons of different formulas. So, we think that this work in Geneva, however modest, has helped to clarify ideas and has led participants [of the Geneva Discussions] to take the initiative, and indeed the statement by President Saakashvili is an important initiative. It is interesting to see that it led the other participants [of the Geneva Discussions] to react positively and we have now an expanded base for our work. Of course, all this is taking place just few days before the Geneva session, and this will be very much in the center of the next session.

Q.: If there is an agreement between the participants on this issue, it seems that one of the major controversies in the Geneva discussions will be removed.       

Pierre Morel: Yes, but we've learnt to be careful. It is very clear that there are different types, modalities of statement and declaration. Therefore, you have different approaches to the statement on non-use of force. We have to be precise and to see where there is convergence and where there is divergence. This is part of our work and we must progress on this important subject in full clarity.

All the elements of the text of the statement of President Saakashvili are not exactly the way they might have been expected from other participants. But we have clear points of legal nature in this pledge. This is very important: I mean this is connected to international law, and now, in a written form. The modalities of the statement of President Saakashvili will be a matter of discussion, no doubt.

One year ago, this kind of approach was considered by some as just impossible; now we have moved. I also need to recall that, for some participants, the initial line was to say that there is a need for an agreement and that a statement was not enough; but it was also recognized by them that a statement would be a good start. That's where we have to do our further work. Frankly, we have been confronted with a lot of skepticism on this subject; some would say one year ago that we were embarking into some kind of philosophical consideration; no, we have tried to pin down what were the possibilities, the limitations, the opportunities, and we have been working with all the options. This is the approach of the Geneva Discussions.

‘We Can Cautiously Be Optimistic’

Antti Turunen: With his [President Saakashvili's] statement and inputs from Sukhumi and Tskhinvali we now have the material and we can say that the process is [moving] in right direction with this material we have and we can cautiously be optimistic. There is a feeling, that all the participants agree now that the Geneva Discussions are the right format and it's the only format where these issues are discussed. In that sense we have achieved a lot and secondly we have also achieved the full functioning of the IPRM [Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism] - both of these mechanisms, not only the Gali mechanism [referring to regular meetings held in Gali, breakaway Abkhazia], but also the Ergneti mechanism [referring to regular meetings in frames of IPRM held in a village on the administrative border of breakaway South Ossetia] - are positive steps forward.

I think we have all chances and also challenges to take the next step forward and try to formulate something, which is common, not only individual statements.

Q.: Mr. Morel said, while speaking about President Saakashvili's declaration, that it might not be what others expected; it seems there are still disagreements about the form of this non-use of force declaration. One of the recent proposals put forth by Russia was, that if the parties fail to agree on signing a legally binding agreements on non-use of force, then let them separately make unilateral, individual declarations on non-use of force. Georgia's unilateral declaration is very much similar to what Russia has been proposing...

Pierre Morel: Yes, indeed. We have said that we have had different proposals; this was the base of the work of the co-chairs. Indeed, it can be the first step, and some also would argue that it should lead to an agreement - but an agreement between whom and whom and a statement from which participant of the discussions? So we have clearly taken a new step; we must assess where we are and, once again, [assess] what is now possible.

Last year, the participants in Geneva [Discussions] were discussing ideas, launching proposals and counter-proposals... One year later, after this useful work, we have statements, including the formal one made by Georgian head of state in a prestigious place [European Parliament], confirming to major international interlocutors his position; we have Foreign Ministry reaction in Russia; we have inputs from Sukhumi and from Tskhinvali; so we have now a new context. This deserves further analysis.
Q.: Judging from the Russian leadership's statements, Moscow is not going to make any such declaration on non-use of force as it considers itself a mediator and not a party into the conflict. Is this one of the reasons of your cautious stance? 

Pierre Morel: This is a matter of discussion already [since] the last year. We continue to look after this dimension. We were discussing that in a context of drafts put on table between the participants; now we have new developments, which have taken place on the international level with the legal dimension. So let's reconsider this point further.

Antti Turunen: Both the substance and the format - everything is to be discussed; the format [is] also including possible guarantees of international security arrangements - all this is part of the package. We are just approaching this with cautious steps, and let's see how it functions.

'Non-Use of Force Pledge and Int'l Security Guarantees Should Go Hand in Hand'

Q.: You mentioned international security guarantees. The document, which the co-chairs have developed known as "basic elements of a framework for an agreement on the non-use of force and international security arrangements", is this something in which you tried to combine the key positions of the participants - on the one hand calls for non-use of force and on the other - Tbilisi's insistence on creating international security guarantees in the breakaway regions?

Pierre Morel: This is how you start; when you have different points of view and you have people seating around the table, looking for means to improve security - let's identify all the options; so, you first have to do a checklist in order to review all the dimensions. In this deepening of the discussion, we have stressed, again and again, with all the participants, that if you want to work on non-use of force, you have also to work on the international security arrangements, which are connected with non-use of force.

Non-use of force is not the kind of concept which is floating in the air. This is something related to concrete situations, which implies rules of behavior and guarantees and consequences on the ground. Otherwise, why should one enter into this complex exercise? This is meant to improve real security; therefore, as soon as you begin to work on this legal and commitment dimensions, you must look at the guarantees and modalities.

So we have always spoken of "non-use of force and international security arrangements". If partners, interlocutors are ready to commit themselves, they also look into the modalities in which this can be secured and can be prevented from non-compliance or failure.

Q.: So these two – non-use of force and international security guarantees - go hand in hand.

Pierre Morel: Yes, exactly.

‘Flexible Informal Framework’

Q.: Who are the mediators in the Geneva discussions?            

Pierre Morel: Well, let's not be trapped by the words, this would be my first reaction.

As you know, the Geneva discussions started on October 15, 2008 - two months after the war. That was part of August 12 agreement and complementary arrangements of September 8. We started from scratch in the sense that Georgia has withdrawn from the former Moscow and Sochi agreements; therefore, we had no real precedents. We started in a new context and we had therefore to elaborate our framework. Thus, we shaped this formula of co-chairs, which is linking the three organizations [UN, OSCE, EU]. Since the start, we have been working the same way, shaping further our system.

As a part of this mission, we have paid regular visits to all participants, and you can call this a mediation role. But, usually, when you look at international norms, it is done within certain rules or under the aegis of one organization or with a formal agreement between the different parties to the conflict. We have not gone through too many procedural steps. We've had guidelines, and our mandate is based on the August 12 agreement. With the consent of all the participants in this rather flexible informal framework of the Geneva Discussions, we have tried to push as far as possible the work. There are about 60 people meeting every two months. Work is going on between the sessions, we do not stop [between them], this is our rule as co-chairs; our respective teams are constantly involved and this is what we have elaborated.

We will not put ourselves into some kind of specific category, because we keep this informal character; it's called Geneva Discussions, it's not negotiations. So in that respect, I understand your need to qualify things more precisely...

Q.: I'm asking this because Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said just recently "Russia, US, EU, OSCE and UN act there as mediators"...

Pierre Morel: We would not enter into this kind of characterization. We start from what we have - the mission we have received - and we try to push it as far as possible.

Antti Turunen: This process itself hopefully will really create some kind of peace reconciliation, that's of course our dream and aim. But at the moment we try to do step-by-step, facilitating the discussions that we have in Geneva and it's the only forum for all the participants and it is important achievement in itself and now we are taking cautiously steps forward and hopefully we can keep making progress.

Pierre Morel: In other words, we do not have full-fledged, structured system from the beginning. It was rather specific base from which we try to extract the maximum. We have had some results already and some positive impacts on the ground, together with EUMM [EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia] and with the work we have been doing between the sessions; this represents certain dynamism, we are there to further the process, as far as we can.

‘Optimistic about OSCE mission’s return in the long run’

Q.: OSCE Summit in Astana adopted a Commemorative Declaration, but failed to adopt a comprehensive action plan with unresolved conflicts representing key stumbling block. Can you identify briefly what was the controversy particularly in respect of Georgia?

Bolat Nurgaliyev: The major controversies were around the status issue of the two entities - South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Insistence that the fragment on protected conflicts should be titled 'Conflict in Georgia' was not receiving consensus among the participating states; that prevented us from putting [that fragment] in the text; otherwise, other aspects [were] agreed including to proceed [with the work] within the framework of the Geneva International Discussions.      

But I have to remind that the concluding part of the Declaration contains instruction to the incoming chairmanship of the OSCE to proceed working on the Action Plan taking into consideration what has already been discussed during preparation of the summit, plus the proposals and specific ideas, which were put forward during the summit and in the speeches of heads of government and heads of state.

Q.: There have been calls by number of western leaders at the Astana summit for re-establishment of the OSCE mission in Georgia. The previous, OSCE Greek chairmanship in 2009, was putting forth proposal in this respect. What were the Kazakh chairmanship’s efforts in this regard, what kind of proposals, if any, have been discussed and do you foresee any progress in this regard?

Bolat Nurgaliyev: Of course we were very keen to ensure the continuity of the preceding efforts and we picked from where our Greek colleagues left that particular set of issues - it's not just one issue, it's also the essence of what the mission of the OSCE should be doing in the region.

We were trying to adjust ideas put forward by different participants. For example: something is not acceptable to all the sides, then what about this, what about that - and this took quite a long time, because [during] each occasion we had the request for timeout for consideration of fresh proposals.

But I think, more or less, the formula on which we will be proceeding to concentrate our efforts - Kazakhstan being the member of "OSCE Troika", will also be providing its own input, but now the leading role will be passed to the Lithuanian chairmanship - this way or other way, I am pretty optimistic that we will have an OSCE presence. But, of course, that will need further tries and in the long run I am sure that we will restore a meaningful and useful presence of the OSCE, which will continue to play its role in the Geneva International Discussions, as well as its engagement in implementation of specific projects, which were discussed yesterday here in Tbilisi and today in Tskhinvali.

Q.: You said you are optimistic about restoration of OSCE presence in Georgia; what is this optimism based on?

Bolat Nurgaliyev:  I've never heard that there is no need for that [mission in Georgia] and the acceptance of the projects that we are discussing, which have a direct bearing on everyday life of population of the region is the proof that we will be definitely having a field mission. But how it is going to be, on what footing - that is subject of further deliberation; the matter in principle is accepted; the devil is in details, but these details, I am sure, will be worked out.

Q.: There have been talks on launch of EU-funded and OSCE-implemented rehabilitation project in breakaway South Ossetia [if launched it will be the first of this kind since the August, 2008 war], involving repair works on Zonkari dam. Are there any tangible signs that this project will be launched?

Bolat Nurgaliyev: Yes, we strongly hope that it's going to be this way, because there were some technical issues, which we had to clear; we seem to have come to understanding. Money is there, the technical feasibility has been studied. Now it's a matter of signing the contract and starting actual work. We were insisting that it should start as soon as possible given the winter’s coming and if it is snowing, maybe, there will be a delay, but that will be a delay caused by force majeure.

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