Georgia says meeting with breakaway S. Ossetia leader possible

Georgia Materials 27 March 2008 16:15 (UTC +04:00)

(RIA Novosti) - A meeting between the president of Georgia and the leader of breakaway South Ossetia is possible, but needs to be thoroughly prepared, Georgia's reintegration minister said on Thursday.

"We do not mind a meeting, but believe it needs to be prepared," Temur Yakobashvili said.

Eduard Kokoity, leader of South Ossetia, one of the republics that declared its independence from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union and a bloody conflict in 1991, asked Russia in January for help in organizing a meeting with President Mikheil Saakashvili.

The request came following two bomb attacks in the republic in February and late March which left two dead and about 20 injured. South Ossetia and Russia have said the bombings can be traced to Georgia.

Kokoity earlier proposed a meeting with Saakashvili to sign a non-use-of-force deal.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday Kokoity's proposal remained relevant reaffirming its commitment to assist in holding the meeting between the presidents.

Yakobashvili retorted on Thursday he did not know "who the president of South Ossetia is, but a meeting between the Georgian president and Kokoity is possible."

South Ossetia and the other Georgian breakaway region, Abkhazia, are a sensitive issue in relations between Georgia and Russia. Georgia, which has moved to join NATO under the pro-Western Saakashvili, is seeking to regain control of the republics and accuses Moscow of encouraging separatism.

The two self-proclaimed republics have repeatedly called on Russia to recognize their statehood.

Last Friday, Russia's lower house of parliament proposed the president and the government consider recognizing the independence of Georgia's breakaway republics citing the precedent set by Kosovo.

Moscow earlier this year lifted trade restrictions on Abkhazia and called on other ex-Soviet countries to follow suit.