Press Conference Following the Conclusion of the Fourteenth Round of the Geneva Discussions
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks for coming in. Sorry for the delay.
We don’t have a lot of time so I will make just a short statement and then I’m happy to take whatever questions you have.
I was pleased to lead our delegation to the 14th round of the Geneva Discussions. One of the most important developments since the last round of the Geneva discussions was President Saakashvili’s statement on the non-use of force to the European Parliament. At the Geneva talks today we welcomed that unilateral declaration on the non-use of force. This is a commitment that reinforces the commitments already made by Presidents Medvedev and Saakashvili under their August 2008 ceasefire. It underscores Georgia’s position that there is no military solution to the conflict, which is something the United States has always believed and said before, and we hope that this gesture will contribute to confidence-building and mutual trust, enabling us to improve stability, address humanitarian and human rights concerns, and bring us closer to a permanent resolution of the conflict.
We also at the talks today welcomed the Russian Federation’s withdrawal from the village of Perevi as a step towards eventual full compliance with its ceasefire obligations. We invite the Russian Federation to demonstrate its commitment to the peaceful resolution of the conflict by making its own formal pledge to the non-use of force.
Russian deployments in the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions are inconsistent with its ceasefire commitments and threatens stability in the region. Such actions also demonstrate the continued need for additional transparency, including an international security presence inside Abkhazia and South Ossetia. At today’s Geneva session we continued our discussion of proposals to increase transparency and stability along the administrative boundary lines.
Participants all agreed that the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms, the IPRMs, offer the best channel for implementation of these proposals. The United States welcomed the October 28th resumption and December 10th meeting of the IPRM for South Ossetia and we urged participants in both IPRMs to build upon their respective successes to positively affect the lives of the communities on the ground.
The last point on the Humanitarian Working Group. It was constructive today including a discussion of concrete activities to facilitate the return of those displaced by conflict in a manner consistent with international standards. We also welcome progress on access to water and gas.
That’s a brief summary of today’s discussions. I’m happy to take any questions you might have.
QUESTION: Several of the previous rounds of talks have not produced any progress, in fact the way it was presented to us they were actually sliding backwards in terms of the original goals set, they were moving further away from them.
Would you say that today’s meeting was actually steps forward? And what would be, apart from the resumption of the IPRM meetings and these tentative agreements on, is it water?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Water and gas.
QUESTION: Water and gas. What would you say would be, in terms of the outcome of the meeting, the major steps forward?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: One of the reasons that progress has been limited in previous rounds of the Geneva talks was this issue of no use of force. And for many sessions now, in particular the Russian delegation but also the South Ossetians and Abkhaz, had been pushing for a commitment by Georgia not to use force. There were discussions of this about whether there could be an agreement among participants together on such a statement, and later the Russians started pushing the idea of at least getting Georgia to unilaterally declare it in a legally binding way. That, for many of the sessions was the dominant discussion, and it stood in the way of progress in other areas. That’s why we were so welcoming of President Saakashvili’s statement last month, because it allowed, it should allow us to move beyond that debate. What the Russians and others have been asking of the Georgians for some time now, they have done and taken that issue off the table.
So we hope that that will enable the Geneva talks to focus on what they’re supposed to be focusing on, which is practical issues that affect the people on the ground. That’s one step forward that I think we have made.
And the functioning in the meeting of the IPRMs is another step forward. That’s also been an obstacle to process obviously they’re not meeting, if the South Ossetian IPRM isn’t meeting then the parties can’t get on with these practical issues. It has now resumed its meetings and it’s a step forward.
But I won’t claim that this deals with -- There remain fundamental differences, especially over core issues, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia which the United States continues to firmly stand behind. That issue remains a major difference. Notwithstanding that, we’re trying to get on with practical issues that affect the people on the ground.
QUESTION: In terms of what actually happened here, the IPRM meeting didn’t happen here. The statement by Secretary [inaudible] didn’t happen here. The big developments are elsewhere.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: In terms of things happening and dealing with situations, the IPRMs are really the mechanism for that type of activity. The regular Geneva talks are an opportunity to review where we stand on all issues. The working groups on political and security issues, the working group on humanitarian issues, and the overall discussion of strategic questions like non-use of force. So Geneva isn’t really the place where agreements would be implemented, but it’s a place to review the overall situation. The IPRMs are more the mechanism, the forum where things, so to speak, would happen.
QUESTION: On December 7th or 8th Georgia accused Russia of orchestrating attacks within Georgia. Was this topic raised during the session here?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It was briefly brought up, but that’s not a matter for the Geneva discussions and it wasn’t a formal part of the procedures. It was mentioned. Obviously it affects the context. But it’s not a focus of the Geneva talks.
QUESTION: So there was no formal protest put forward by the Russians or anything like that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The Georgian delegation mentioned the issue. Again, it’s something obviously that affects the context. It’s an important issue. Obviously the United States takes it very seriously as well, but it was not and is not a subject of the Geneva talks.
QUESTION: Were there any issues that were particularly difficult this time? Did you talk about any -- Were there any outstanding unresolved problems that were --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As I say, there remains a large outstanding difference which is that we and Georgia support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and Russia as well as the de facto authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia don’t. That is a core difference that remains. We try to get beyond that core difference and agree to work on issues like water and gas and displaced persons and detainees even while agreeing to disagree on what remains a fundamental difference.
And we, as I mentioned in my opening remarks use this as a forum to press for further transparency. Transparency has been lacking, and our view is that the more transparency, the more security. It doesn’t threaten anybody. At present in undisputed Georgia you have the European Union Monitoring Mission and we feel that the world has a window into the situation in undisputed Georgia and knows about military deployments and the situation on the ground. Whereas in Abkhazia and South Ossetia we don’t have such transparency. That is a factor of insecurity. That is also why we called on Russia to make a no use of force declaration, again to reassure the parties. Not only Georgia, but even the authorities in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali made a pledge of no use of force and it would be helpful if Russia would do the same.
So the problem is, those two things together without the political and legal assurance that Russia also, like us and Georgia and the others, does not see a military solution. The lack of transparency on top of that is a factor of insecurity.
QUESTION: Did Russia comment on President Saakashvili’s statement?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The Russians have acknowledged that President Saakashvili’s statement was an important step. That’s a good thing. It’s good when the parties acknowledge that other parties are doing constructive things. So that in and of itself is a positive statement. That’s why I do think that the Georgian declaration which was reinforced by letters to the United Nations, to the OSCE and to the EU and to President Obama was a major step forward in the Geneva efforts and really puts on the table that military force isn’t a solution.
So that’s a positive thing that Russia acknowledged. It was an important step. It remains to be seen whether one, it will lead to Russia reciprocating that step; and two, whether it will lead to getting that issue out of the way so that we can make progress in other areas like transparency, humanitarian access and so on.
QUESTION: Did Russia respond at all to the call for it to make a corresponding declaration?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It has yet to do so.
QUESTION: It has yet to make a corresponding declaration, or it has yet to respond to the suggestion?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It has yet to make a corresponding declaration, and that note itself is a response. As I said, we made clear that we believe that Russia should make such a statement. They chose not to do so. They have chosen so far not to do so, but we hope they will recognize that this would be a constructive thing to do.
QUESTION: Do you think the South Ossetians and Abkhazians, their delegations have seats at the plenary --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: They are always present in the working groups.
QUESTION: But not at the plenary.
VOICE: It’s not held in plenary. It’s held in two working groups.
QUESTION: Okay. I think initially there were plenary meetings and they were problematic. So at the moment it’s two working groups.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The meeting begins in two working groups and the South Ossetians and Abkhazians are at the table for both.
QUESTION: Did the question of Russia’s WTO accession come up? There’s an issue of Georgian customs integrity.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s an important issue and the United States is talking to Russia and talking to Georgia about that issue but it’s not a part of the Geneva discussions.
Thanks a lot.
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