November 25, 2008 / 9:33 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. urges continued tough Russia line over Georgia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia is still failing to meet its ceasefire obligations with Georgia and Washington’s European allies must not overlook this and rush to embrace Moscow, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

A column of Russian troops prepares to leave the checkpoint at a bridge over the Inguri River in Western Georgia October 8, 2008. REUTERS/Levan Gabechava

Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said Moscow must pull back its forces as agreed in a French-brokered ceasefire that ended the war in August before there could be “business as usual.”

“I am worried that Russia is not fulfilling its most important obligations under the ceasefire agreement. There are many partners of ours who would like to sweep that all under the rug and return to some semblance of normal operations,” Bryza said in an interview with Reuters.

NATO foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, will meet in Brussels next week and review the suspension of high-level meetings of the NATO-Russia Council, the main forum for their ties, which was prompted by the conflict.

Ministers will also discuss the conflict at an annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Helsinki. The OSCE is helping to mediate between the two countries.

“Some would like to move forward and restore what seems to be a semblance of normalcy. We don’t want that sweeping under the rug. We want to hold Russia accountable,” said Bryza, who declined to say which nations he was referring to.

Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi, who was in Moscow this month, is seen as particularly sympathetic to the Kremlin, and Germany also traditionally has close ties.

A suggestion by France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy for a security summit with Moscow next year has irked Washington and some others who believe it will undermine NATO and the OSCE.

In a sign that European countries are prepared to thaw Russian ties, European nations have already agreed to relaunch talks on an EU-Russia political and economic pact on December 2.

Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in August. Relations between the two neighbors remain fraught over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Moscow recognizes as independent states under its protection.

Bryza said Russia had failed to fulfill its promise to cut back and withdraw its forces to their strength and locations before the mid-August conflict and were not allowing full access to humanitarian workers in the breakaway regions.

Bryza said he hoped a declaration would be made at the OSCE meeting to ensure monitors had “unfettered access to all parts of Georgia and that Russia adheres to its commitments.”

In the wake of the war, Washington and NATO canceled military exercises with Russian forces and Bryza said these should not be renewed until Moscow met all its commitments.

While stressing it could not be “business as usual” Bryza said he was not against engagement with Russia.

But he said: “We have to hope that within those conversations there is not a wink and a nudge in the sense that ‘we are beyond that now and let’s close all these lucrative energy deals’.”

He said the strategy for the administration of President-elect Barack Obama, which takes over on January 20, should be to oppose any undermining of Georgia’s government and instead to give it economic and political support.

Editing by David Storey

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