Bush, Saakashvili set to discuss separatist conflicts

Georgia Materials 20 June 2006 13:01 (UTC +04:00)

(RIA Novosti) - The U.S and Georgian presidents will discuss resolution of "frozen conflicts" in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions at a Washington meeting July 5, the White House said Monday.

The White House press service said Mikhail Saakashvili would arrive in the United States on a working visit to discuss democratic processes in Georgia since President George Bush's visit to the North Caucasus country in May 2005, as well as "efforts to promote a peaceful resolution to the separatist conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia within a unified Georgia."

In an interview with Tbilisi-based Imedi television last weekend, Saakashvili said that Georgia's top priority was restoring its territorial integrity, currently a flashpoint in its rocky relations with Russia, which it accuses of backing separatists in the two self-proclaimed republics, reports Trend.

"Our major problem is territorial integrity," he said. "We say to Russia - friends, if you solve this problem with us, we assure you that all the other issues are 10 times or 100 times less important."

Georgia reacted furiously to recent insinuations by Russia's Foreign Ministry that its territorial integrity was more of an aspiration than a reality, slamming what it said was "unbalanced rhetoric" and calling on its giant northern neighbor to accept a proposal to start talks for Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Bilateral relations between Russia and Georgia have deteriorated in recent months over the role of Russian peacekeepers in the two breakaway regions, and ultimately over Georgia's aspirations to join NATO and leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose association of former Soviet republics.

Saakashvili said in Sunday's interview that he had recently discussed issues related with the Russian-led peacekeeping operation in the two conflict zones with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and reiterated that it was up to Georgia to decide the fate of Russian peacekeepers.

"Everything will depend on how relations will develop and what will be the reality," Saakashvili said. "But I can assure you that no decisions on resolution of conflicts [within Georgia] will be taken behind our back."

The Georgian Parliament is expected to decide by mid-July whether or not to demand the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Other items on Saakashvili's agenda in Washington will include "cooperation in energy security and Georgia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations and our common commitment to working together to advance freedom and security around the world," the White House said.