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EU Puts Mediation Above Recriminations Over Georgia Crisis

  • Ahto Lobjakas

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Brussels for an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Brussels for an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers.

BRUSSELS -- European Union foreign ministers, gathered in Brussels for an extraordinary meeting, have endorsed the cease-fire terms negotiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy between Russia and Georgia on August 12.

The EU shrugged off pressure from Poland, the Baltic countries, and Britain to take a tougher stand against Russia's invasion of Georgia.

Instead the bloc's foreign ministers endorsed the view of the EU's French presidency, argued by Paris in a number of lower-level meetings this week, that any recriminations would endanger its hard-won status as a mediator.

After the meeting, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner lengthily recounted the difficulties the French-led EU mediation effort had to negotiate before Sarkozy could announce his six-point plan for a cease-fire in Moscow on August 12.

'Everything Remains'

EU ministers meeting in Brussels limited themselves to reiterating the plan. Kouchner warned that lasting peace had yet to be won.

"Right now, everything remains to be done," he said. "This is not a text that will change the face of the world. The face of the world has been changed by texts which have changed nothing for 14 years in that part of the world. There have been the resolutions and decisions of the OSCE, the United Nations, and then there was the war. Now, we are trying to get
involved [in Georgia] in a very intense fashion. This is the role of the [EU's French] presidency, this is the role of the entire [EU], to involve Europe, to involve the EU in the practical resolution of the conflict."

France and Germany led the effort to blunt calls from eastern member states for a clear condemnation of Russia. Both argued this would mortally undermine the EU's mediating role. Both also argued that it was the EU's preeminent responsibility to prevent the resumption of hostilities.

As a result, the EU foreign ministers' declaration bears the hallmarks of the terms of the compromise negotiated by Sarkozy. The declaration reaffirms the EU's support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity but refrains from any criticism of Russia.

The battle lines were drawn before the meeting, when Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier cautioned against "unilateral accusations.

''I think the EU must ask itself which role it wants to play in the future," he said. "We have to decide on either a strong statement with a unilateral accusation or, if we look to the future, [we should] take a real role in order to further the stabilization. That also means keeping open all channels to Moscow and Tbilisi, and I am confident we will take a
decision in that sense.''

Majority Support

After the meeting, Steinmeier said that the views of Germany and France had enjoyed majority support among EU member states during the meeting.

The cautious compromise stance assumed by the EU is a far cry from the anxious reaction of the three Baltic countries and Poland over the weekend, whose presidents issued a joint statement accusing Russia of "imperialism" and "revisionism."

EU officials say the EU is likely to wait until an informal foreign ministers meeting in Evian, France, on September 5-6 before seriously examining the impact of the war on its relations with Russia -- with which the bloc is currently negotiating a strategic partnership accord.

Georgia's foreign minister, Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili, who attended the EU meeting, asked the bloc to break off the partnership talks with Russia. She also said Russian troops remain in Gori and other parts of Georgia, and said Georgians were being systematically killed in South Ossetia and surrounding areas.

There was no formal EU response.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign-policy chief, indicated that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which already has observers on the ground, must bear the initial brunt of monitoring the cease-fire.

"You need first people to observe that the cease-fire is maintained," Solana said. "Then you have to have observers, monitors, as you know, that do the role that you know very well they have to do. Eventually, they have to do something else. And that will require, as Bernard Kouchner has said, a UN Security Council resolution that will define the modalities and all that."

EU ministers studiously avoided any references to the possible dispatching of international "peacekeepers" to Georgia. Kouchner indicated Moscow currently rejects any such Western role, which would require a UN Security Council resolution -- where Russia has a veto. The EU declaration, quoting the terms of the cease-fire negotiated by
Sarkozy, only refers to Russian "peacekeepers."
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