Prague, 13 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Addressing reporters in Tbilisi, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli said the South Ossetian peace proposals came as a "surprise" to him.
He nonetheless described them as a "step forward" that matches Georgia's own plan to settle its 15-year-old sovereignty dispute with South Ossetia.
"It is especially important to us that the fundamental points contained in [South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity's] letter correspond with the peace plan that [Georgian] President [Mikheil] Saakashvili presented to the UN General Assembly at the end of 2004 and that [I] subsequently presented to the OSCE permanent council [in October 2005] and that was endorsed by OSCE foreign ministers last week in Ljubljana," Noghaideli said.
Kokoity's peace proposals are contained in a letter that was posted on South Ossetia's official website yesterday.
In it, the leader of the unrecognized republic calls for the creation of a working group within the four-party Joint Control Commission (JCC) that is responsible for monitoring and implementing the 1992 Georgian-South Ossetian ceasefire.
The JCC comprises representatives of Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia, and Russia's republic of North Ossetia.
Kokoity suggests that this working group -- which he says should be set up by 1 February 2006 -- should focus on ways to further demilitarize the conflict zone, elaborate confidence-building measures, and boost the regional economy.
The South Ossetian president also calls for an emergency JCC meeting that would examine ways to de-escalate tensions in the conflict zone.
Kokoity says his peace plan should be implemented in three successive stages.
South Ossetia's Special Affairs Minister Boris Chochiyev explained to RFE/RL's Georgian Service today what these three stages are.
"The [first stage] includes the demilitarization of the conflict zone, the restoration of confidence, and the establishment of security guarantees," Chochiyev said. "The second stage includes the social and economic rehabilitation [of the conflict zone] and the third stage includes the political settlement of the relations between Georgia and the republic of South Ossetia. This program should serve as a basis for talks that would involve the four sides' highest political leaders."
Kokoity's proposals come amid renewed tensions in the conflict zone.
Georgia and South Ossetia have accused each other of arresting officials, police officers, and civilians.
In comments printed yesterday in Russia's "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" daily, South Ossetia's Defense Minister Anatoly Barankevich accused Georgia of seeking to forcefully reassert its control over the breakaway republic.
But today, both sides had adopted a more conciliatory tone.
Addressing reporters in Tbilisi, Georgian Conflict Resolution Minister Giorgi Khaindrava praised Tskhinvali's peace initiative.
"[Georgia] has been often criticized for making unilateral proposals. And indeed those were unilateral proposals because our colleagues [in the JCC] did not want to take part in this process. Thank God, common sense has prevailed. Everyone understands -- and I, too, believe -- that this is an important step on Kokoity's part," Khaindrava said. "We must now join forces so that the Ossetian and Georgian populations of the [conflict zone] can live together again. Were it not for these political tensions and these various forces that have been hindering the implementation of the peace process, there would have long been no problems. We welcome [Kokoity's] initiative."
Russia, which is South Ossetia's main economic and political sponsor, also welcomed the peace plan.
Russia's envoy to the JCC, Valerii Kenyaikin, who held talks with Kokoity yesterday, confirmed that South Ossetia's peace plan is in line with Georgia's earlier proposals.
But Russia's potential differences with Tbilisi emerged today, when Kenyaikin and Khaindrava held a joint press briefing. The Russian envoy hinted that Moscow may insist that Georgia's other separatist republic of Abkhazia be also included in the process -- something Tbilisi may object to.
Last month's OSCE-sponsored Ljubljana talks ended inconclusively, with Georgia accusing Russia of torpedoing the peace process.
Commenting on the November meeting, Khaindrava then said it had showed that the JCC in its current format is "ineffective" and that the OSCE and other international organizations should take part, or be more actively involved in the peace process.
South Ossetia's peace proposals, by contrast, emphasize the role of the JCC in its current format.