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Caucasus: Presidents Focus On Security

Trabzon, Turkey; 30 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan are due to hold a second and final day of security talks today in the Turkish Black Sea city of Trabzon. The conference is focusing on ways to fight terrorism and ensure the safety of regional energy projects.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who was at the talks with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, said yesterday the three countries should act to ensure the safety of a projected U.S.-sponsored oil pipeline that would link the Azerbaijani capital Baku with Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. It would also traverse Georgia.

Turkish President Sezer said greater cooperation among the three states would enhance regional peace and security.

Separately, about 20 U.S. soldiers arrived in Georgia yesterday to pave the way for antiterrorism training for the Georgian military. A Pentagon spokesman said the troops are the first of about 150 to 200 American special-operations forces who will teach military tactics to Georgian soldiers and officials.

Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze said the arrival of U.S. soldiers in Tbilisi yesterday is "according to plan." Tevzadze made the comments while preparing to depart later today for a visit to Washington. He didn't give any details about his U.S. visit or about the U.S. forces in Georgia.

The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi said the troops will be meeting with Georgian Defense Ministry officials over the next week to set up the training program. U.S. Pentagon spokesman Tim Blair said the training will start in about one month.

The program is aimed at helping Georgian forces battle terrorists, particularly Muslim extremists in the Pankisi Gorge near Georgia's border with the breakaway Russian region of Chechnya.

Russian and Georgian officials say militants from Chechnya are based in the remote region. U.S. officials say those fighters could be linked to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network.