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What "frank discussions" might mean

By Messenger Staff
Friday, February 26
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement that the NATO-Russia Council will be used as a forum for “frank” discussions about areas of disagreement with Russia, and the USA will demand there that Russia recognises Georgia’s territorial integrity, has created great resonance in Georgia. Members of the Georgian Government have greeted it with enthusiasm, but experts are more sceptical and do not expect anything concrete to emerge from it.

“We will use it [the NATO-Russia Council] to press Russia to live up to its commitments on Georgia and to reiterate our commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states,” Clinton stated. Clearly this is an issue of some importance for the US. It is not often that any Secretary of State says that they will use a NATO forum to demand specific actions rather than discuss general issues. Furthermore, Clinton used the term "frank" discussions. This is diplomatic language for a "slanging match" on issues where the parties are fundamentally opposed and are likely to remain so. Her statement means, in effect, that even if Russia refuses point blank to change its position on the breakaway regions America will continue to press its own case.

Chair of the Georgian Parliament Davit Bakradze has said that this statement will not be followed by quick steps from the Russian side. “But the Western position is that a precondition of the negotiations is that they will seek ways of ensuring the de-occupation of Georgia and restoring our territorial integrity,” Bakradze said. This would suggest another layer of meaning to Clinton's statement: that the negotiations will be held whatever Russia's position is, and Russia will isolate itself further by obstructing them in any way.

Local analysts try to explain Washington is talking about Georgia publicly. Recently US-Russian relations have worsened in spite of the US policy of resetting them. Neither side is cooperating with the other. Moscow and Washington have disagreements on certain issues, one of them being Georgia, and as relations have deteriorated Washington is now trying to use all mechanisms to apply pressure. Analyst Irakli Sesiashvili states that at the same time the US has its own geopolitical interests in the South Caucasus and bringing Russia to heel is in its own interests as well.

Moscow does not like to be reminded of its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement and it will not make any compromise at all if Russia does not see that the US is going to be very strict with it. As for Georgia joining the North Atlantic alliance itself, and therefore being directly involved in these discussions, this is far off at present. The most important thing for Georgia now is to fulfill its own commitments to NATO and make the necessary reforms. Clinton's statement further implies that this action, and a positive US response to it, will also be effective in putting pressure on Russia.