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August 18, 08

NEWS / Highlights: Georgia: Russian Troops Must Honor Pledge To Withdraw

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Crawford, Texas
August 17, 2008

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, welcome. Let me just give the overnight news developments here, and that is that Russia’s president has apparently told French President Sarkozy that Russian troops will begin pulling back from their positions in Georgia beginning at midday tomorrow. Does this mean that the crisis has passed?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the problem is, first of all, that the Russian President has given his word several times and it’s not been honored by Russian troops. So I assume that this time, Russian forces are indeed going to withdraw. Secondly, the Georgian people deserve to get back to a more normal life. But the circumstances of this are not going to be forgotten by the United States, by the West, or by the many countries surrounding Russia. So we hope that Georgia can begin to get back to a more normal life if Russia will carry through with its pledge. But the consequences of this go on.

QUESTION: Well, as I understand it, the agreement does not mention how large the peacekeeping force in Georgia can be. The Russians have had troops there. They’ve called them a peacekeeping force. We’re learning from intelligence sources that the Russians may have as many as 15,000 troops there now. Are all of those troops going to have to pull out as far as you’re concerned?

SECRETARY RICE: The peacekeeping forces that will remain are the peacekeeping forces that were there before the conflict began on August 6/7. So that is clearly stated, that every – all the forces that came in after the crisis started have to go. The “peacekeepers” who were there before the crisis will remain.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, has this – how has this changed the United States’ assessment of the Russian Government, Prime Minister Putin and all of that? There was a time when we saw him as a partner. What has this done to U.S.-Russian relations?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would put it this way, Bob. We have offered – President Bush has offered an opportunity for Russia to behave as a partner, offered an opportunity for Russia to make a strategic choice in favor of integration into the international economic, political, diplomatic security structures, made an opportunity for Russia to finally act like a 21st century modern power. And I do think that Russian behavior calls seriously into question whether Russia is prepared to make that choice. In fact, Russia seems to want to have it both ways. It wants to be a part of these institutions that are so essential to the international economy and the international order, and on the other hand, it wants to engage in kind of Soviet-style behavior of intimidating and invading allies-- neighbors. Both can’t be true.

QUESTION: Where do we go from here? We’ve had people like the Republican candidate for president, John McCain, has said some time ago that we ought to just kick them out of the G-8, the group of industrial nations. Should we try to further isolate Russia? Would that, in fact, be a good idea to ask them to leave G-8, or tell them to leave?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, by its behavior, Russia is isolating itself. The world has been appalled, frankly, at Russian troops in Georgian cities and bombing ports and areas that are really for commerce. So Russia is isolating itself. Now as to what we will do about Russian participation in certain institutions and American support for that, you know, we’ll take a look. Right now, we’re focused on helping the Georgian people, getting the Russians out of Georgian territory, helping Georgia to rebuild. If Russia thought that it was going to be able to bring down the Georgian state, bring down its democratic institutions, it’s failed. And what they’ve done instead is to bring down Russia’s reputation as a potential – and I want to emphasize potential – partner in the international system.

QUESTION: Were we close to going to war here?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I think that would seriously overstate where we were, Bob. It was a difficult crisis. This is a zone of conflict. What the Russians did was to unfortunately go well beyond the zone of conflict and threaten Georgian institutions. But they learned very quickly that the world was not going to stand for 1968-like behavior where they occupied a capital and brought down a government and stayed for 20 years. Very quickly, the institutions of the West, NATO, the European Union, the U.S.-European Union relationship came into being.

And I think Russia realized its limitations. But the damage to Russia’s reputation and the damage to people’s views of Russia’s suitability for some of these institutions, that damage can’t be undone. Georgia can be rebuilt. Russia’s reputation is going to take a while, if ever.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you, in any way, feel any responsibility for this happening? Because some experts are saying that the United States may have overpromised what it would do or told the Georgian President what we would do in response to something like this. Some from the Russian side are saying that, in fact, we had the Georgian President on a leash and you basically unleashed him, that he went into this misunderstanding what the United States’ response might be.

SECRETARY RICE: You know, it says something about Russia that they talk about a democratically elected leader being on a leash. The United States and Georgia have had a very good relationship. This is a pro-Western, pro-European government that wants to be a part of those institutions. And all the United States has done is encourage democratic government in Georgia, encourage market-based economic reforms, encourage the fight against corruption, and encouraged the Georgians to look toward the modern institutions of the West. That’s what we’ve done.

As to this particular conflict, we’ve encouraged Georgians and all parties to resolve this conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia peacefully. We’ve supported peace plans, we’ve supported diplomacy, we’ve told all parties not to get involved in military conflict. But let’s remember that what was initially a conflict in the zone of conflict, a place that’s been volatile for more than a decade now, what was originally a conflict there was accelerated and exacerbated by the Russian decision to reach deep into Georgia, not to stay in the zone of conflict. That’s what happened here. But the United States has told all parties that the use of military force in any way in this hot zone, this volatile region, was going to be a mistake.

QUESTION: Will Georgia get back these disputed territories, these provinces that broke away from Georgia which set off all this when the Georgian troops took the first steps on this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is a disputed area, but it’s supposed to be resolved diplomatically. And the United States will stand for the territorial integrity of Georgia, will stand for the fact that any negotiations proceed from the basis that this – these territories are within the internationally recognized boundaries of Georgia, based on a number of Security Council resolutions that recognize that state. And then there should be an international negotiation to determine how to put in place a stable political and security framework. After all, the Georgians have, from time to time, offered substantial autonomy to these regions. This will have to be negotiated, but it starts from the point of the territorial integrity of Georgia.

QUESTION: All right. Well, Madame Secretary, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.


Source: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2008/08/108302.htm



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