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New Talks Aim to Resolve Georgia, Russia Tensions

Talks aimed at resolving tensions between Georgia and Russia after this summer's brief war get underway in Geneva Wednesday. The one-day meeting is being held under the auspices of the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the UN conference site in Geneva.

These were supposed to have been high-level talks. But, they have now been downgraded to the so-called expert level of vice-minister.

Daniel Warner is the Director for the Center of International Governance at the Graduate Institute of International Development Studies in Geneva. He says people are skeptical about what can be accomplished given the hostile relationship between Russia and Georgia.

Nevertheless, he tells VOA it is important to have a meeting, which allows the Russians and Georgians to sit at the same table and talk.

"Having said that, I do not think that there will be a resolution in the sense of returning to the status quo before August 7. The best thing that can happen is to guarantee that there will be no more fighting," Warner said. "To guarantee that there will be peacekeepers on the territory and to begin to see how they can begin negotiations that somehow can reach some kind of resolution between two parties which have very different points of view about the situation."

Fighting between Russia and Georgia erupted on August 7 over the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia. The five-day war displaced tens of thousands of people in Georgia proper, as well as in South Ossetia and Georgia's other breakaway region, Abkhazia.

Russia subsequently moved into Georgia, but says it has since withdrawn its tanks and troops from the country. During the talks, the United States and other Western countries are expected to look into Russia's compliance with its withdrawal commitment under the French-brokered ceasefire agreement.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon says the complex issues on the table defy quick solutions.

"We should not be too much impatient or hurried to have so-called technical resolution of this issue. This may take time. So, we need to have some patience," he said. "In the short term, we need to try our best efforts among the parties concerned to restore confidence so that we can establish a conflict resolution process in the end."

Russia and Georgia are at loggerheads over who should sit at the negotiating table. Russia, which recognizes South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, wants them to participate in the talks. Georgia is opposed to this.

Warner says a compromise appears to have been worked out.

"The compromise as I understand today is there will be a plenary session only with the Georgians, Russians and government officials," he said. "Then there will be a second meeting between experts where people from Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia will be represented. But, the name tags will only say that they are individuals. They will give their names. They will not be representing a formal government. That is the compromise for the moment."

The United States says it still has serious concerns over the Russian troops' location and their overall numbers in the breakaway regions. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Dan Fried will attend the talks and see that this issue will be, as a State Department Spokesman says, front and center during the discussions.