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STALEMATE IN GEORGIA

The United States is perplexed by the diplomatic stalemate in the Republic of Georgia, where Russia is inciting separatist movements and daring the world to stop it, U.S. and Georgian diplomats said.

A U.S. envoy over the weekend expressed Washington's frustration about the failure of the rebellious province of Abkhazia to negotiate with the central government in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Russia, meanwhile, has exerted pressure on Georgia by extending de facto diplomatic relations to Abkhazia and another renegade province, South Ossetia. Both provinces border Russia.

"I cannot understand why there are not direct talks between the authorities in [Abkhazia] and Tbilisi right now. The Georgian government is ready," said Matthew Bryza, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

"There should be no issue that is unacceptable for the talks to begin, and there should be no preconditions at all," he told journalists in Tbilisi after separate meetings with Georgian and Abkhazian officials. "We need the sides to get together to reinvigorate the peace process."

In Washington, Georgian Ambassador Vasil Sikharulidze is calling for U.S. help and warning that Russia could spark a wider confrontation by its "provocative actions."

In testimony last month before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Sikharulidze noted that Russia has been involved in Georgia's internal affairs for 16 years in "peacekeeping and negotiating formats" without "measurable or substantive progress."

"Indeed," he added, "there has been a steady deterioration of security on the ground, recently exacerbated by illegal troop and weapons deployments and the establishment of unilateral legal ties with separatist entities by the Russian Federation."

Mr. Sikharulidze complained that Russia is dominating foreign mediation efforts, "preventing the sides of the conflict from engaging in direct contacts, while keeping the international community at arm's length."

Georgia, a former Soviet republic, gained its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, armed conflicts soon erupted in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia reached cease-fires with South Ossetia in 1992 and with Abkhazia two years later.

"Moscow has in recent years put economic and political pressure on Georgia," said Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, in testimony at the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. He cited Russia's closure of its border with Georgia, suspension of air and ground transportation and the imposition of embargoes against Georgian exports.

"Besides political pressure," he added, "Russia has also increased military pressure."

VENEZUELA ON EDGE

Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez is beginning to alienate some of his coalition partners who are worried about his increasingly radical agenda, government mismanagement, inflation and food shortages, according to a report from the International Crisis Group.

"The pro-Chavez movement is losing momentum," said Mauricio Angel Morales, senior regional analyst for the global think tank. "It has become bureaucratic. Corruption is rampant, and the government's capacity to manage the country is poor."

Mr. Morales added that regional and local grass-roots groups, the backbone of Mr. Chavez's socialist regime, are "increasingly disappointed" by the concentration of political power in his newly established Socialist Party of Venezuela.

They are also nervous about his foreign policy decisions, especially his "intrusive diplomacy throughout Latin America" and his support for rebel groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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