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Clinton Sets Trip to Eastern Europe, Caucasus Region

  • David Dyar

The State Department said Friday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Poland, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia in a trip starting next week and spanning six days. She will try to ease lingering political conflicts in the Caucasus region.

Officials here are cautioning against expectations of any major U.S. diplomatic initiatives on what will be Clinton's first trip to the Caucasus region as secretary.

But they say she intends to try to build on ongoing U.S. efforts to ease regional problems including the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, and the troubled aftermath of the armed conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

The brief war, sparked by a Georgian military move into the breakaway region of South Ossetia, ended with Russian troops occupying that area as well as the Black Sea coastal region of Abkhazia.

The United States rejects Russia's recognition of the two areas as independent entities, and officials say in a Washington meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week she reiterated U.S. support for Georgia's territorial integrity.

The Clinton-Lavrov meeting came on the sidelines of the talks Thursday between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev that appeared to give a major boost to U.S.-Russian relations.

But State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said better ties with Moscow will not lessen U.S. support for the Georgian government of President Mikhail Saakashvili.

"It does not come at the expense of Georgia that we have constructive relations with Russia. As you saw yesterday, there was a lengthy list of accomplishments in terms of the bilateral with President Medvedev and President Obama. But just as we are improving relations with Russia and cooperating on an increasing range of issues, obviously we will continue to stress the importance of resolving the lingering conflict in the Caucasus," he said.

Crowley called Georgia an important ally and said its commitment of troops to Afghanistan is the largest on a per-capita basis of any country with troops in the NATO-led coalition there.

He said Clinton intends to try to prod Azerbaijan and Armenia to make progress on Nagorno-Karabakh and to advance the process of normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey.

Turkey is not on the secretary's itinerary but a senior official here said it is not a snub and that Clinton, who visited Ankara last year, has a limited "window" and packed agenda for upcoming trip.

In Kyiv, the first stop on the trip, the secretary plans to meet Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who took office in February, and opposition figures.

In the southern Polish city of Krakow, she will attend a 10th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Community of Democracies and meet Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

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