Saturday, October 21, 2006

Trading Freedom

In the aftermath of Lahti, the FT's Washington correspondent examines Georgia's fears of "diplomatic horse-trading", as Moscow continues to reinforce a linkage between Washington's policy on Georgia and its own policy on Iran and North Korea. Quoting Dmitry Simes, the article suggests that the White House is well aware of the linkage:
Mr Simes believes that if Mr Saakashvili attempts to use force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia - the two separatist regions backed by Moscow - then Russia is likely to respond on the ground and with air strikes against Georgia proper. "That could lead to a cycle of confrontation between Russia and the west which would make any kind of co-operation on North Korea, and particularly Iran, hard to imagine."

The Bush administration rejects any suggestions of horse-trading. "We will not sell out Georgia," declared Matt Bryza, a State Department official who took part in negotiating resolution 1716 on Abkhazia. Explaining the US concessions last week, he told a conference hosted by the Hudson Institute think-tank: "We were isolated, frankly, at the UN."

"It's flat out wrong," commented Kurt Volker, senior official in the State Department's Europe bureau. "They know we are not in the trade-off business," he said of Russia. Zeyno Baran, director of Eurasian studies at the Hudson Institute, says Russia is "playing all sorts of games" over North Korea and Iran and seeks to gain a free hand in putting pressure on Georgia in exchange. But she doubted the Bush administration would yield. "It would be so against Bush's policy on freedom and democracy," she said.

Caught in the midst of a crisis he cannot influence, Georgia's president, who has strong popular support for his pro-western orientation, is assuring the US he will avoid "rash acts" that might give Russia the pretext to "smite the success story to its south". However, writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, he urged Georgia's allies to stand by it. "If any one of us gives in to bullying or tolerates the politics of ethnic hatred, we are all at risk," he said.
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