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Clinton Urges Patience from Georgia over Breakaway Regions

September 24, 2009
Washington - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Georgia to exhibit strategic patience in resolving issues over its two breakaway regions - South Ossetia and Abkhazia - and Russian occupation of those regions.

Clinton met with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili September 21 in New York before general debate begins at the United Nations.

“We are working to try to ensure that Russia abides by the 2008 cease-fire, and hopefully to eventually reintegrate your country as it should be”, Clinton said at a brief press conference. The United States continues to support Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, she said.

The United States has repeatedly called on Russia to honor its commitment to withdraw the majority of its forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia and permit “unhindered humanitarian access” to the regions.

Saakashvili praised the support offered by the United States and the pressure that has been brought by the international community to force Russia to comply with commitments made a year ago over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “We’ve been very grateful for all the support you’ve given us”, he said.

Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon said Clinton stressed in her talks with Saakashvili that there is no short-term fix to the problems posed by Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “The best way forward would be one of strategic patience whereby Georgia shows itself to be an attractive place, a stronger, democratic” nation, Gordon said at a briefing after their meeting.

“The secretary underscored the importance of democracy and welcomed the progress Georgia has made in strengthening its democracy, and encouraged President Saakashvili to continue in that direction”, Gordon said. “It’s part of the same overall approach to make Georgia a stronger, more attractive place and better partner of the West.”

Saakashvili took the meeting as an opportunity to explain how much progress his government has made in becoming stronger, prosperous and democratic, and reducing corruption, Gordon said. Gordon is the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

“There is no question that they’ve made important progress. But it’s also quite clear that they have further to go”, he said.

The United States and Georgia signed a declaration on a strategic partnership to work toward greater democracy and security. A commission to oversee that work has already begun meeting, Gordon said. The United States also allocated $1 billion in assistance over the past year that is designed to aid the Georgian economy and enhance its prosperity. NATO created the NATO-Georgia Commission that meets twice a year.

Saakashvili said September 22 in an interview on CNN that Russia continues to occupy two regions of Georgia. “More than half a million Georgians and other ethnic groups, they’re all Georgian citizens, are refugees from those areas. There’s a mass Russian military buildup”, he said.

Saakashvili said that after the brief August war in 2008 everybody expected Georgia to fall and disappear.

“Look at where we are now”, he said. “Our economy is still in good shape, and it’s doing better than most of the regional economies. Our political system is going well. … [The] country’s really moving. We are one of the top investment destinations for the region, one of the top, the first one, according to the World Bank.”

“So in many ways, Georgia is winning [the] peace”, he said.

In August 2008, Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war over the two breakaway provinces that since have been recognized only by Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela as independent states. In a July 23 speech in Tbilisi, Vice President Biden said, “We will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.”

Russia maintains a sizeable military presence in both breakaway regions despite a cease-fire agreement negotiated in August 2008 and September 2008 that calls for the forces’ removal. The Russians have also objected to European peace monitors in Georgia. The United States supports expansion of unarmed, international monitors throughout Georgia and the disputed regions to promote peace and stability.

Despite Russia’s characterization of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, it does not relieve Russia of its commitments. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, United Nations and European Union have coordinated meetings to resolve these issues and to convince Russian officials to honor their commitments made under the August 12, 2008, and September 8, 2008, agreements.