Georgia crisis tests USA presidential candidates

Georgia Materials 12 August 2008 13:19 (UTC +04:00)

The Georgia-Russia conflict has given the presidential candidates the chance to put their foreign policy credentials to the test, reprited CNN.

With Sen. Barack Obama out of camera range for the most part, Sen. John McCain is jumping on the opportunity to make a distinction between himself and Obama on the issue.

Obama is vacationing in Hawaii, but his campaign says he is being briefed on the situation and he made a statement Monday. McCain, who is hitting the trail in Pennsylvania, has been aggressively condemning Russia's actions.

Tensions between Georgia and the breakaway republic of South Ossetia came to a head August 8 after Russia responded militarily to a Georgian offensive on South Ossetia. Georgia's parliament declared a "state of war" with Russia the next day.

World powers Monday urged Russia to "stand down," respect Georgia's sovereignty and allow the international community to intervene in the crisis. The efforts mark an attempt to prevent a war between Moscow and the former Soviet republic.

South Ossetia is a pro-Russian enclave of Georgia that has sought independence for years, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has supported the region's local government.

With Obama largely out of the news cycle this week, McCain has used the political vacuum to polish his foreign policy credentials.

"Russian President [Dmitry] Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin must understand the severe, long-term negative consequences that their government's actions will have for Russia's relationship with the U.S. and Europe," he said Monday, the latest in his harsh words for Russia.

He urged the U.N. Security Council to condemn the violence, even with the threat of a Russian veto. Russia's actions, he said, must be submitted to "the court of world opinion."

Obama later Monday read a statement on camera in which he seemed to come closer to McCain's position, saying Russia's invasion was a "turning point" in its relationship with the West.

"Let me be clear: We seek a future of cooperative engagement with the Russian government, and friendship with the Russian people," Obama said. "We want Russia to play its rightful role as a great nation -- but with that role comes the responsibility to act as a force for progress in this new century, not regression to the conflicts of the past."

When news broke of the outbreak of violence Friday, both candidates were quick to respond, but McCain was the only one to assign blame to Russia for the escalating hostilities.