By Alister Bull
ERIE, Pa., Aug 11 (Reuters) - U.S. presidential candidate John McCain, flashing his foreign policy credentials while rival Barack Obama is on vacation, warned Russia on Monday of severe, long-term consequences from its conflict with Georgia.
The Republican senator from Arizona, who has made international issues the centerpiece of his campaign for the Nov. 4 election, offered a lengthy discourse on the crisis in the Caucasus for reporters and cameras.
He said Russia appeared intent on toppling Georgia’s pro-Western government rather than returning to the status quo in South Ossetia, which Tbilisi is trying to keep from breaking away.
McCain called on U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to travel to Europe "to establish a common Euro-Atlantic position aimed at ending the war and supporting the independence of Georgia."
"Russian President (Dmitry) Medvedev and Prime Minister (Vladimir) 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," McCain said.
He urged NATO’s North Atlantic Council to convene an emergency session to demand a ceasefire and begin discussions on both the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to South Ossetia and the implications for NATO’s future relationship with Russia.
McCain opened his remarks with what might be seen as a subtle dig at Obama, who is on holiday in Hawaii.
"Americans wishing to spend August vacationing with their families or watching the Olympics may wonder why their newspapers and television screens are filled with images of war in the small country of Georgia," he said before launching into a lengthy explanation of Georgia’s recent history.
Both McCain and Obama said on Saturday they had spoken to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Obama ratcheted up his criticism of Russia in a written statement from Hawaii where he is spending a week off the campaign trail with his family.
Russia and Georgia came into direct conflict over South Ossetia last week after Tbilisi launched an offensive to regain control over the breakaway separatist region.
McCain instantly took a tougher line against Russia than either President George W. Bush or Obama, his opponent in the race to succeed Bush. McCain has charged that the first-term Illinois senator is too naive and inexperienced to be commander-in-chief.
Georgia is a close ally of the United States and has relied on military aid and training from Washington, which has pushed hard for Georgia to become a member of NATO despite strong opposition from Russia.
Long an outspoken critic of Russia, especially for what he considers Moscow’s backsliding on democratic reforms and human rights, McCain has said if elected he would push to exclude Russia from the G8 conclave of major industrial nations.
Obama on Saturday called for direct talks among all sides and said the United States, the U.N. Security Council and other parties should try to help bring about a peaceful resolution.
"I condemn Russia’s aggressive actions and reiterate my call for an immediate cease-fire," Obama said in a statement.
"Russia must stop its bombing campaign, cease flights of Russian aircraft in Georgian airspace, and withdraw its ground forces from Georgia," he said. (Reporting by Alister Bull; editing by Howard Goller)