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Media Roundtable at OSCE Vienna

Media Roundtable at OSCE Vienna

Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary

Vienna, Austria
November 16, 2006

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRYZA: Thank you for coming. I am here in my capacity as a Minsk Group Co-Chair. That is what brought me to Vienna today, but I have had a whole series of discussions as well on Georgia. I just finished one up now with our EU allies, our friends. I spent some time working on energy issues as well. Our efforts to work with countries and companies here in Europe who themselves have articulated a desire to secure diversified supplies, particularly of natural gas, from the Caspian region, even while they deepen their cooperation with Russia as a gas supplier. So, that ’s the main focus.

With Georgia we are thinking of what might be an appropriate way to treat Georgia and our stated support for Georgia ’s territorial integrity in the context of the OSCE Ministerial. Maybe there will be a statement, maybe there won ’t. Maybe there will be some specific measures that countries endorse, maybe not. Last year, the Ministerial endorsed Georgia ’s South Ossetia settlement plan. A nice statement, but not enough progress has happened since then in implementing that plan, for a number of reasons. So we ’d like to see the Ministerial somehow stimulate a new dynamic that leads toward a political settlement in South Ossetia.

So, those are the topics I have been working on today. I hope they are in accord with some of your interests.

MODERATOR: Let ’s go one by one around the table here. Let ’s start on this side - Mark, do you have a first question?

QUESTION (Mark Heinrich, Reuters): Our latest report on Georgia is that the Georgians are very much up in arms about these Russian plans to charge them three or four times the market price for natural gas. And the Georgians have warned the EU that the could face big increases as well as a result& hellip;.Concern too about South Ossetia ….Removal of Georgian Defense Minister ….Perhaps you could comment on how the United States is trying to cool this thing down, at least according to the U.S. point of view, and what we face it it ’s not cooled down.

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRYZA: It ’s hard to determine what a [inaudible] market price is for gas these days, because natural gas prices are determined in a strange way. Gasprom purchases gas in Central Asia for a hundred dollars per 1000 cubic meters and tries to define what price it wants to sell it for in Europe, including in Georgia. In this instance Gazprom has said openly that Georgia will pay $230 this year per 1000 cubic meters. If you don ’t like it, Georgia, here are the consequences: You will have no gas or you will give us ownership of your strategic gas infrastructure, without saying what is obvious, that next year you will be in a deeper situation such as today.

Is that commercial? Is that political? I don ’t know, but it ’s not reflective of normal market practices. And the fact that those tactics come against a backdrop of all the political tension you just laid out creates further room to worry that it is Moscow in fact that is escalating. We saw yesterday that the Russian government issued a statement by the Foreign Ministry hailing the independence referendum in South Ossetia as a triumph of democracy. How could that possibly have been a triumph of democracy when a huge percentage of the electorate of South Ossetia was unable to vote? How can it be a triumph of democracy if it is conducted under a situationa of lack of any international monitors?

QUESTION It was called a triumph of democracy?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRYZA: Yes, that ’s right. To call it a triumph of democracy is not factual! We are left in a situation of ambiguity where there ’s a Georgian-led referendum on independence - I mean ethnic Georgians, former residents of South Ossetia, and a South Ossetia-run referendum on independence, with different results. We are in a situation of pure ambiguity.

We didn ’t advance stability or democracy through this instance. So there& rsquo;s a lot of tension, political tension, and under such circumstances it sure would be better if the gas negotiations were done in a quiet, businesslike way, without megaphone diplomacy in the press---people that issue threats.

You mentioned the point that Georgia is or was accused of, or the Russians say, of stoking military tension in South Ossetia. We see it much differently. I spent a lot of time working on Georgia and in Georgia, and I will be there in a few hours. I have not felt at all that Georgia is planning to use force in South Ossetia. The Russians have been claiming that. They shout about that all the time. What Georgia has been calling for is a much more aggressive effort to resolve the conflict politically. And the South Ossetians and the Russians have resisted a more active effort to resolve the conflict politically.

What we are trying to do – to finally answer your question – here at the OSCE, is to put into place additional mechanisms that will, yes, reduce tension, absolutely, yes, take a second step, build confidence, that has to happen, and thirdly, will get the conflicts, both Abkhazi and South Ossetia, on a trajectory that leads toward a political settlement. That ’s the only way to create long-term stability and de-escalation. I don ’t want to say that the Georgians are completely faultless in increasing tensions. I mean it always takes two to tango. And it would be great if in certain circumstances Russia chose to take a quieter path. Like in the case of that espionage incident a few weeks ago. Spy cases happen all the time. There is an internationally acceptable way to handle them, where someone is declared persona non grata and they quietly leave the country. This time the tactics were much more “exciting ” on the Georgian side and they elicited the negative response. It would be better to avoid that. Finally, on the QUESTION of the shift in the Defense Ministry. Yes, all throughout the Euro-Atlantic community and in Russia people had complained about the bellicose statements that were periodically uttered by the Defense Minister, Okruaashvili. Well, he did his job in one way, in working to rebuild the Georgian military. Georgia has the sovereign right to rearm its military, but many people criticized those bellicose statements, and it seems to me, it seems to us, that the desire to shift Minister Okruashvili to a new portfolio reflects the Georgian government ’s recognition that we need a less bellicose, at least rhetorical, approach. Sorry, there were many pieces in there. Very important.

QUESTION (Heinrich): Do you think the OSCE has done enough ….inaudible& hellip;.Is the OSCE slow to react?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRYZA: I think the OSCE is working hard at this. It ’s in a very difficult position. It ’s a mediator. One of its key members, Russia, is not enthusiastic about more OSCE involvement, so it is difficult for an organization, a multi-lateral organization, to operate under those conditions. But they have a great representative on the ground, Ambassador Roy Reeve. Here I have heard all day today very similar sentiment that we need to energize what we are doing together through the OSCE to get the conflicts on a more positive trajectory. The challenge is, how do we work with Russia, to convince Russia, that doing so really is in its long-term interest?

QUESTION Veronika Oleksyn, AP): What ’s your comment on the statement of the Georgian Prime Minister at the European Parliament on Tuesday? … DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRYZA: I didn ’t see the quote, can you tell me, sorry, I was traveling.

QUESTION continues …He called the situation a European confrontation& hellip;.

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRYZA: Well again, I ’m a little bit embarrassed to say that I didn ’t read the speech, but I will say is that Georgia is European. I mean it is geographically located on the Black Sea. It is continguous with Turkey. If you had really good eyesight, you gaze across the Black Sea and see Bulgaria or Romania. It has an aspiration to be part of Europe. What we think in the United States is that the completion of Europe, a Europe that is whole and free and democratic, requires Georgia to become part of it. That would be completing Europe ’s East, if you will.

So if you agree with that logic, then serious tension or, God forbid, some sort of confrontation on the ground in Georgia, it is an European issue, but it& rsquo;s ultimately the responsibility of Georgia to resolve this problem, and so Georgia needs our support, of course, but Georgia also needs to take the lead in reaching out to the separatists, and making it worth their while to be part of Georgia even while we in the international community make that more feasible by compelling, or convincing, or encouraging Russia to play a more active role in reaching a political settlement.

QUESTION (Markus Bernard, Der Standard): Russia has imposed a blockade on Georgia. Do you understand why Russia is doing this?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRYZA: No, I don ’t understand why, to tell you the truth. I felt when I was in Moscow a couple of weeks ago that, a lot of Russians, my friends and people I had never met before, were a bit taken aback, a bit surprised, by the intensity of the actions taken against Georgia. I mean the rounding up of ethnic Georgians, and putting them in cargo planes, well, that ’s not attractive. Or combing the lists of elementary schools for little children, little girls with the big bows in their hair, well they are somehow being identified as dangerous people. That ’s not the 21st century. That ’s bizarre. What could motivate a government to want to do that? I can ’t figure it out. I can just say that I think many people in Russian realize that ’s gone too far. That ’s good. Maybe that is how they are going to move backward on that policy.

When it comes to economic sanctions, they are harsh sanctions on Georgia, very harsh, and at the same time there were military maneuvers that were taking place in the beginning of this spy crisis, along with the economic sanctions. What lies behind that in a strategic sense, I don ’t know. In a tactical, or immediate sense, clearly Russia is trying to send a very frightening message to Georgia to do---something. For sure that something is, don ’t humiliate our officials or our military intelligence officers.

Comment from reporter: They ’re “back. ”

They are back, so what else is it? Well maybe it ’s, “don ’t do that again, ” or maybe it ’s something else. I don ’t know what that is. I don ’t know, but I do see a confluence of muscle-flexing, be it on gas as you just described or on not wanting to move to solve the conflicts or on sanctions. I really don ’t know.

QUESTION …inaudible …

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRYZA: Well, if our rhetoric is worth its weight, then of course its touches our interests. We care about Georgia, not as some sort of counterpoint to Russia. We want partnership with Russia. We worked very hard at that in the first term of President Bush ’s administration. But Georgia matters; therefore, Georgia doesn ’t matter as a counterweight to Russia. That would be crazy. Georgia matters because it has undergone a remarkable process of reform since the Rose Revolution not even three years ago. If radical democratic and market economic reform can ’t succeed in Georgia, well where is it going to succeed? A cornerstone of our foreign policy is a belief in the power of democracy and political freedom. Georgia really needs to succeed in that regard. Therefore, if we think that political and economic freedom leads to regional stability, and if the extended region of Europe- I mean Europe ’s east, the Caucusus, - is of deep strategic interest to the United States, in that sense, of course all of us have a legitimate interest in what happens in Georgia. But again at the end of the day, it ’s Georgia ’s responsibility to chart a course that restores its territorial integrity, allows its democratic and market economic reform to proceed (it has a lot more work to do) and coexists peacefully with Russia. Georgia and Russia have a shared responsibility to do that.

QUESTION (Bernard): What is the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh mediation?

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRYZA: Actually, the process is moving. When I was here last time in June, the Co-chairs said we ’re going to take a pause and we want the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to react to these basic principles that the Co-chairs proposed. Improve them, or reject them, but the ball is in your court. We don ’t want you to just blame the Co-chairs for not creating progress. Actually, during the course of the last couple of months, the foreign ministers have met three times. The last time was just now. There was sufficient momentum generated in improving these basic principles that we suggest maybe the two Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia should meet in the next couple of weeks, actually on the 28th of November, in Minsk, on the margins of the CIS Summit. So there is progress. Where there ’s been progress is thinking through the links between returning all of the so-called & ldquo;occupied territories ” in Azerbaijan with the of status. I can& rsquo;t go into details beyond that, but the parties have thought through the issue you mention: status and the return of territories in a creative way, in a constructive way, in a way that reflects respect for each.

Released on November 22, 2006


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