AVIGNON, France |French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Saturday admitted that “a translation problem” had contributed to differences in interpreting a Russia-Georgia peace plan.
Mr. Kouchner was asked what was behind the interpretation difficulties that concern the key issue of what Russia calls “buffer zones” that it is maintaining around the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
“The translation, as always,” he told the closing press conference after two days of talks among European Union foreign ministers in Avignon, France.
“It was signed, the same paper [by all parties], but signed in French then translated into English and Russian,” he said.
He said he was aware of “one particular” translation problem, adding that “the others are of no great importance.”
The main linguistic glitch was in a passage in the Russian version that spoke of security “for South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” whereas the English version spoke of security “in” the two areas.
Mr. Kouchner’s remarks confirmed comments by an unnamed Russian official earlier in the day who said the two versions were “not the same.”
“In the Moscow version, the text refers to security ‘for’ Abkhazia and ‘for’ South Ossetia,” said the official, speaking to Agence France-Presse on the condition of anonymity.
“In the document given to the Georgian leaders, it was presented as ‘in’ Abkhazia and ‘in’ South Ossetia. It is not the same,” he added.
The wording is significant because it refers to the “buffer zones” that Russia has created in undisputed Georgian territory and that Moscow says are necessary to prevent Georgian forces from threatening the two breakaway provinces.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday asserted that the cease-fire agreement presented by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili contained numerous “distortions.”
The version given to the Georgian leader “contains a whole range of distortions of the agreement reached by Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy,” including replacement of the preposition “for” with “in.”
“This is a direct forgery, and that is how we regard it,” Mr. Lavrov said during a press conference. His comments were published on the Russian foreign ministry’s Web site.
“The authentic text is the one approved by the two presidents in the Kremlin on August 12,” Mr. Lavrov said.
Mr. Sarkozy will hold talks in Moscow on Monday, with troop withdrawal one of the key issues to be discussed with his Russian counterpart, President Dmitry Medvedev.