- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

Alarm in Georgia

He came to Washington on his first visit as Georgia’s deputy foreign minister to get acquainted, but he quickly found himself raising an alarm about the danger that his country faces from an angry and suspicious Russia reeling from terrorist attacks and threatening retaliation.

George Gomiashvili told Embassy Row yesterday that he has talked with State Department spokesman Richard Boucher and think tanks in Washington about Georgia’s fear that Russia could use the terrorist assault on a school in the southern Russian town of Beslan as an excuse to intervene in his country.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday reaffirmed that Moscow would mount pre-emptive strikes against any nation that it suspects of sheltering Russian terrorists.

That statement sent a chill through Mr. Gomiashvili because Russia has accused Georgia of sheltering terrorists from the rebellious region of Chechnya, a charge Georgia has denied. Georgia has complained of Russian support for separatist elements in the border area of Abkhazia, over which the central government in Tbilisi has little control.

“The Russian Foreign Ministry is making accusations against Georgia that the masterminds of the tragedy might have come through Georgia or that Georgia had something to do with it,” Mr. Gomiashvili said. “We are smart enough not to shelter terrorists.”

Russia is blaming Islamist terrorists from Chechnya for the assault in Beslan, which killed 326 hostages, including more than 150 schoolchildren. The attack came days after the bombing of two Russian airliners and a suicide bombing near a Moscow subway station last month.

“The Georgia people mourn with the Russian people. … But I’m afraid other Beslans are on the way,” Mr. Gomiashvili said.

In his meetings in Washington, Mr. Gomiashvili urged the United States and other Western powers to use all diplomatic means to prevent any Russian intervention in Georgia.

He recalled that one professor asked him what Georgia would do if Russia invaded Abkhazia.

“I answered, ‘What would we do if they invaded Tbilisi?’ ” Mr. Gomiashvili said.

Mr. Gomiashvili said his new government wants to maintain peace in order to develop a stable democracy and weed out corruption. However, Georgia fears that Russia is trying to reassert dominion over the former Soviet republic.

“They are not happy with anything good that happens in Georgia,” he said. “We thought we knew Russia, but unfortunately its only predictability is that it is unpredictable.”

Embassy warning

The U.S. Embassy in Indonesia yesterday warned American citizens there that further terrorist attacks could come after the bombing near the Australian Embassy that killed nine persons and injured 170.

“The embassy continues to receive reports that terrorist organizations may attempt to carry out attacks against identifiably American or other Western facilities or business in Indonesia,” the embassy said.

Embassy spokesman Max Kwak added that the embassy is urging most of its employees to stay home today.

“The embassy will be open, but we are operating on a reduced staff,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Cambodia advance

The U.S. Embassy in Cambodia yesterday applauded the government’s approval of an agreement to join the World Trade Organization.

WTO membership “offers the Cambodian people a path to reintegrate the economy fully into the world trading system,” the embassy said.

“For Cambodia, the real challenge begins now. Over the next five years, Cambodia must pass and enforce scores of laws and regulations to fulfill its commitments under its WTO accession agreement,” the embassy said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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