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Saakashvili Rejects Russian Diplomatic Offer, Cites Sovereignty Issue

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili made an initial overture to Russians during a speech in the parliament on February 28, offering visa-free travel to Georgia.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has rejected the terms of a Russian offer for the two sides to restore diplomatic relations for the first time since their 2008 war over a breakaway Georgian republic.

Saakashvili told reporters in Tbilisi that Moscow must first recognize that two breakaway territories whose sovereignty Russia has already endorsed -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- are part of Georgia.

Moscow previously vowed to have no relations with Tbilisi until Saakashvili, whose presidential term is scheduled to end in 2013, is out of power.

But the Russian proposal came after Saakashvili's offer in a speech to parliament on February 28 of visa-free travel for Russians.

The Georgian president called it a unilateral initiative intended to "give peace an even greater chance."

But it was also regarded as an attempt to boost Georgia's economic fortunes by drawing Russians to the former Soviet republic.

Moscow has pledged to reciprocate by removing the visa requirement for Georgians if Tbilisi can ensure "the safety of Russians visiting Georgia."

A Russian Foreign Ministry March 2 statement says Russia is interested in "strengthening ties between the peoples of Russia and Georgia" and is prepared to introduce a reciprocal visa-free regime for Georgians.

Russia and Georgia ended years of wrangling and struck a deal in December that opened the door for Moscow to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The agreement stipulated that an independent company would be allowed to audit trade in the two disputed regions, a model that some observers thought might serve as a future template.

With AP reporting
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