Monday, December 22, 2008

U.S.-Georgia Security Pact Said To Be In The Works

By Brian Whitmore

RFE/RL, 18 December 2008

With Georgia's hopes of quickly joining the NATO alliance deferred for the moment, Tbilisi is placing its hopes in the next best thing -- a bilateral security pact with the United States.Details of the emerging accord are still unclear, but Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze said the two sides are already discussing a "framework agreement" proposed by U.S. officials."Intensive negotiations are under way," Kalandadze told reporters in Tbilisi on December 17. "This treaty is being discussed mainly at the Defense Ministry, but also at the Foreign Ministry.... We will jointly analyze all its provisions in detail and in the end we will come to an agreement."

The negotiations come as the United States and Ukraine prepared to present a new strategic partnership statement on December 19.Georgian officials say they hope a bilateral arrangement could not only enhance their security, but also jump-start their NATO bid. But analysts say it could also significantly raise the stakes in the South Caucasus by bringing the United States closer to a direct confrontation with Russia, which is solidifying its military and political presence in the pro-Moscow breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

News of the emerging pact leaked earlier this week during a visit to Tbilisi by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza. At a press conference on December 16, Bryza said that "no agreement exists," but then went on to strongly suggest that something was indeed in the works."What we talked about in detail, was U.S.-Georgia cooperation on security and strategic partnership," Bryza said. "We're still working through how to reflect the beautiful words 'strategic partnership' in our actual actions and actual life."Officials close to the negotiations say the pact will closely follow a model established by the Baltic states in the late 1990s.

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