September 9, 2008

Sarkozy Last-Ditch Bid to Win Russian Withdrawal

French president Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday pressed Russia to honour its pledge to withdraw from Georgia and warned the Kremlin the EU is united on this.

During talks with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, Mr Sarkozy's EU delegation was pushing for a quick deployment of several hundred EU monitors to Georgia. But just after Sarkozy arrived, a Russian foreign ministry spokesman said Moscow is against an independent EU monitoring mission.

Speaking at the start of talks with Mr Medvedev, Mr Sarkozy warned the Russian leader EU nations are "united".

"They want peace, confidence, good neighbourly relations," said Mr Sarkozy, whose country holds the EU presidency.

"And in the same way as our Russian friends, they want to defend our convictions.

The European Union also has its principles and convictions."

Nearly a month after a truce negotiated by Mr Sarkozy ended a five-day war between Russia and Georgia, Russian troops remain deep in Georgia. Georgia and the west accused Russia of failing to honour its pledge to withdraw to positions held before the fighting broke out August 7.

But Russia says they are peacekeepers and are allowed under the accord to maintain security around Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow has recognised the two regions.

Mr Sarkozy has been criticised for giving the Russians too much room for interpretation in the peace deal signed on August 12, and his diplomatic blitz to Moscow and Tbilisi yesterday may be his last chance to save it.

"This is the accord that should be put into place," Mr Sarkozy said of the original ceasefire deal.

Other members of the EU delegation are European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

EU officials said quick deployment of several hundred EU monitors to Georgia would remove any justification for the continued presence of Russian troops outside the two provinces. But their mandate is yet to be negotiated.

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said just before the EU delegation sat down for talks with Mr Medvedev that Moscow was against an autonomous EU monitoring mission in Georgia.

"We believe it will lead to an unnecessary fragmentation of international monitoring efforts already being conducted by the UN and the OSCE," Mr Nesterenko said at a briefing.

(c) 2008 Birmingham Post; Birmingham (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.