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NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on diplomatic efforts on 'All Things Considered'

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Europe Takes Lead In Georgia Diplomacy

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Europe Takes Lead In Georgia Diplomacy

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on diplomatic efforts on 'All Things Considered'

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The Bush administration insists it won't let its ally Georgia down. But so far all the tough talk has not slowed Russia's actions. The U.S. seems to have little leverage and it is the Europeans who have been launching a mediation effort.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. We begin this hour with the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and diplomatic efforts to calm the crisis there as Russia advances farther into Georgian territory.

The U.N. Security Council is holding another emergency meeting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been working the phones, and European foreign ministers are on the ground, trying to get Russia to agree to a cease-fire.

So far, this diplomatic flurry has not slowed Russia. What it has done is highlight how little leverage the Bush administration has. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Georgia's pro-Western president, Mikhail Saakashvili, says he needs help and more than just moral support. His troops tried to retake a separatist region known as South Ossetia last week, but Russia moved in to push the Georgians back, and now he fears Russia will move against him.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood says the U.S. is a reliable partner to Georgia, but there's no talk of any U.S. military intervention. Rather, he says, the secretary of state has been making dozens of phone calls and talking to her counterparts from other major powers to push for a cease-fire.

Mr. ROBERT WOOD (United States Department of State): The U.S. relationship with Russia is, you know, of course a complicated one, but certainly I think Russia understands where we are on this conflict, where the European Union is on this conflict, and we expect and hope that Russia will heed the call of the international community to stop the bombing, to agree to an immediate cease-fire, and to have discussions.

KELEMEN: But most analysts agree the diplomatic options are limited. Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations says diplomats seem to be groping to come up with a clear and united response and a way to pressure Russia.

Mr. STEPHEN SESTANOVICH (Council on Foreign Relations): The options papers that are being drafted have still got a lot of gaps in them, or mostly gaps in them.

KELEMEN: Much will depend, he says, on Russia's next moves. His colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations, Charles Kupchan, agrees, saying he's not sure yet whether this conflict is a game-changer in Russia's relations with the West.

Mr. CHARLES KUPCHAN (Council on Foreign Relations): I think it's safe to say that from here on out the United States and its allies are going to look at Russia more warily, but I think whether this is a game-changer or not will depend a lot on what happens in the next few days and weeks and that if, in fact, Russia continues to move in and dismember Georgia, then I think there's no question that it will be a game-changer.

KELEMEN: The tension has been palpable at the United Nations, where the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been trying to bring some condemnation of Russia's actions. He said over the weekend that Russia seems to be seeking regime change in Tbilisi to topple President Saakashvili.

President Bush told NBC News in Beijing that he was firm when he met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin there and spoke by phone with Russia's new president, Dmitry Medvedev.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn, you know, bombing outside of South Ossetia.

KELEMEN: But the message doesn't seem to be getting through to the Russians. Charles King, author of the book "The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus," says Georgia shares some of the blame here.

Mr. CHARLES KING (Author): The Georgians significantly overplayed their hand here and have pushed things down a path that could have been, could have been avoided.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials had been urging Georgia not to take the bait from Russia, which was supporting the separatists not only in South Ossetia but also in another breakaway region, Abkhazia. This is a volatile region but one that's important for the U.S. strategically, in part because an oil pipeline runs through Georgia, taking Caspian Sea resources to Western Europe and bypassing Russia.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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