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Russian, U.S. Diplomats Clash At UN Over Abkhazia

Vitaly Churkin (file photo) (epa) NEW YORK, April 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Moscow has accused Washington of following a double-standard in its diplomacy regarding frozen conflicts, a charge U.S. officials immediately rejected..

The row erupted at the United Nations in New York on April 10 over why a leader of the Russian-backed Abkhaz separatist region had not received a U.S. entry visa to attend a meeting at the world body.

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin accused Washington of denying a visa to Sergei Shamba, whom he called the Abkhaz "foreign minister."

"The United States did not grant a visa to the foreign minister of Abkhazia, Mr. Shamba," Churkin said. "Even the current president of the Security Council, Britain's UN Ambassador [Emyr] Jones Parry, spoke to the United States about this matter, but his appeal brought no result. I'm sure that Security Council members are disappointed that they cannot obtain the full information they need to consider this conflict."

Churkin made the statement to reporters after the UN Security Council heard a briefing on the Abkhaz situation on April 10 from UN special envoy Jean Arnault. The briefing session was behind closed doors.

Application Withdrawn

The U.S. State Department immediately rejected Russian charge. Speaking in Washington, spokesman Sean McCormack said Shamba had withdrawn his visa application before U.S. officials made any decisions.

"Mr. Shamba, who acts in the capacity as the Abkhazian, quote, foreign minister applied for a visa and then withdrew his application," McCormack said.

The row over a leader of the Abkhaz separatist region -- which Washington does not recognize -- comes as the Security Council is due to vote on April 13 on a resolution extending the mandate of the UN observer mission to Georgia. The current mandate expires on April 15.

Churkin also charged Washington on April 10 with pursuing a double standard in how it treats Abkhazia, as compared to Kosovo, which is seeking independence from Serbia.

Churkin said Washington had agreed last week to let Kosovo's self-styled president, Fatmir Sejdiu, address Security Council members despite objections from Moscow.

False Analogies

Acting U.S. Ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff said Churkin was trying to draw "false analogies."

"We've heard Ambassador Churkin today, as he has done previously, raise false analogies with Kosovo, in a mischievous effort to complicate that decision," Wolff said.

Washington supports a proposal to grant Kosovo internationally supervised independence. That plan, put forward by the UN special envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, is now under discussion by the Security Council.

Moscow, which has close ties to Serbia, has expressed opposition to the Ahtisaari plan, saying it will continue to push its own proposal to send a Security Council "fact-finding" mission to Belgrade and Prishtina.

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, who was also in New York for the April 10 meeting, said he sees no parallels between the Kosovo and Abkhaz situations.

"No, we certainly didn't raise any issues of Kosovo," Noghaideli said. "And Kosovo and Abkhazia are separate issues."

Tbilisi, backed by Washington, is seeking international support for returning Abkhazia to central government control. Abkhazia broke away from Georgia after fighting in 1992-93.

The Georgian government is also seeking support for the return of a second separatist enclave, South Ossetia.

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