NATO can't agree on sanctions against Russia

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 19, 2008 

BRUSSELS, Belgium — NATO declared Tuesday that it cannot have normal relations with Russia while its troops occupy large parts of Georgia, but alliance foreign ministers failed to terminate any cooperative programs.

The outcome of the emergency session called by the Bush administration indicated continuing divisions within the 26-nation even as Moscow has failed to withdraw its forces under a French-brokered ceasefire agreement.

Russia's representative to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, made light of the western alliance's indecision. "The mountain gave birth to a mouse," he told reporters.

Some European powers, like Germany, have been counseling restraint, anxious not aggravate the crisis and jeopardize their energy supplies from Russia. The United States and former Soviet bloc governments have advocated a tougher stance, anxious to deter the Kremlin from believing it can reimpose its influence over its former empire.

In a statement after their meeting, the foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, called on Russia immediately to withdraw the tanks and troops it sent deep into Georgia after Georgian forces attempted on Aug. 7 to seized control of the Moscow-backed separatist province of South Ossetia.

"We call on Russia to take immediate action to withdraw its troops from the areas it is supposed to leave under the six-principle agreement" brokered by France and signed by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev," said the statement.

"The alliance is considering seriously the implications of Russia's actions for the NATO-Russia relationship," said the statement. "We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual."

NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer said that the alliance would not convene meetings of the NATO-Russia Consultative Council, a body created in 2002 to strengthen ties by discussing disputed issues, and engaging in cooperative programs from counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics to emergency planning and arms control.

The foreign ministers, however, did not terminate any of those programs, despite pressure within the alliance to take such action.

"One can assume . . . that question needs to be provided with an answer soon," he told a news conference.

But he said lines of communications with Moscow should not be severed. "We do not want to close all doors," he said.

The foreign ministers affirmed NATO's opposition to any resolution to the conflict that would allow South Ossetia and another pro-Moscow rebel province, Abkhazia, to secede and join Russia, as the enclave leaders are demanding.

"A peaceful and lasting solution . . . must be "based on full respect for the principles of Georgia's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity recognized by international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions," the statement said.

The foreign ministers also agreed to create a NATO-Georgia commission to strengthen relations between Georgia and the alliance, which the former Soviet republic is seeking to join.

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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