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Clinton Renews Call for Russian Withdrawal From Georgia

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Sept 2010 (file photo)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Sept 2010 (file photo)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has renewed the U.S. call for a withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia under the accords that ended the two countries' brief war in 2008.

Her comments at the State Department, speaking Wednesday at the opening of a U.S.-Georgian dialogue, appeared aimed at reassuring Georgia that the Obama administration will not overlook Georgian interests as it pursues cooperation with Russia on other major foreign policy issues.

At the opening session of the second U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership dialogue, Clinton again described Russia's continuing military presence in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as an occupation.

Clinton said the United States "will not waver" in its support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and said support is a core principle of the 2009 partnership accord and "fundamental" to the bilateral relationship.

"We continue to call on Russia to end its occupation of Georgian territory, withdraw its forces and abide by its other commitments under the 2008 cease-fire agreements," said Clinton. "Georgia has taken a constructive approach in our common efforts to address this challenge through the talks in Geneva. We support the objective of Georgia's state strategy on occupied territories, and we are prepared to undertake activities that reinforce these important objectives."

The Geneva talks were convened in the aftermath of the 2008 war, in which a Georgian strike against South Ossetian separatists was followed by a Russian military thrust into both that area and the breakaway Black Sea coastal region of Abkhazia.

Russia later recognized the self-declared independence of the two regions, and has demanded in Geneva that Georgia sign non-aggression accords with the two areas, which the Tbilisi government refuses to do.

The Obama administration has endorsed the Georgian government's declared strategy of seeking the eventual, peaceful reunification of the country through economic incentives.

In her remarks, Clinton reaffirmed U.S. support for Georgia's bid for NATO membership and said she was "deeply saddened" by the deaths of four Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan in recent days.

She said Georgia has made tangible progress on political reforms, but said "a lot of work" remains before parliamentary elections in 2012 and presidential voting the following year.

Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri, who spoke for his delegation, said Georgia strives to be a "role model" for reform in a Caucasus region that he said "still thinks in a post-Soviet manner" and where official corruption remains part of everyday life.