U.N. Tries To Craft Resolution On Georgia Conflict

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The U.N. Security Council has held five emergency sessions concerning the fighting between Russia and Georgia that began last week. President Bush issued a strong statement calling the Russian invasion unacceptable. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad talks about Russia's offensive into Georgia.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. There's hope of an end to the fighting between Russia and Georgia today. In breaking news from Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he's ordered an end to Russian military operations in Georgia. But as always in these matters, the devil will be in the details, as both sides negotiate some sort of peace. Moscow has made a series of tough demands of the Georgians in return for a formal cease-fire, including a call for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to step down. There have been intense diplomatic efforts to bring the fighting in Georgia to an end. One man at the center of those efforts is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad, and he joins us know on the line. Good morning.

Ambassador ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now yesterday, President Bush issued a strong statement, calling the Russian invasion unacceptable, saying Russia must reverse course and respect Georgian sovereignty. Does today's announcement mean that the Russians have responded to the president?

Ambassador KHALILZAD: Well, that's the, as you said, the devil is in the details. But certainly, what they announced today is positive compared to what we heard yesterday. Now we have to see whether the Russians are not only stopping military operations, but redeploying to (unintelligible) withdrawing the troops that have been brought into Georgia since the 6th of August, and accept international monitoring of the ceasefire agreement. This is what the United Nation draft resolution that was circulated last night calls for, and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia is respected.

MONTAGNE: Now, ambassador, Russia was expected to veto that resolution, and it certainly has that power in the Security Council. How does the announcement this morning by Russia affect your negotiations over this resolution?

Ambassador KHALILZAD: We will see whether or not Russia is willing to support that resolution, whether it is a change of heart, whether Russia is now willing - as I said before - to go back two steps (unintelligible), and also to deal with the government of Georgia's democratically elected government, which Russia, unfortunately, has been making noises such as that the president of the country, the elected president of the country must go. So there are some issues that need to be clarified, but certainly, the stop of the military operations as was announced today is positive.

MONTAGNE: Has Russia, in demanding a change of government in T'bilisi, is it in a strong position to make that happen? Basically, a regime change?

Ambassador KHALILZAD: Well, this is totally unacceptable and crosses all kinds of lines. This is a democratically elected leader that has been selected by the people of Georgia. And the Russians have backtracked a bit, saying that, well, now, that's up to the people of Georgia. I think the fact that we announce to the world that the foreign minister of Russia told Dr. Rice that the president of Georgia must go may have had a positive impact on the change in what we hear from Moscow.

MONTAGNE: This crises, though, did start with the Georgian military moving into the breakaway region of South Ossetia. And just very briefly, I mean, hundreds of civilians were killed. Did the president of Georgia provoke Russia?

Ambassador KHALILZAD: Well, there's a lot of details that are still not clear, exactly what happened. I think the Russians have been trying for some time to provoke the Georgian government. It's possible that the Georgians may have made some tactical errors, but I think it's too soon to come to a definitive conclusion on that issue.

MONTAGNE: Is it soon enough, though, to be able say that Russia has been able to flex its muscles successfully in its own region?

Ambassador KHALILZAD: Well, that is a lot that has to be learned from this. Certainly, the longer this operation went on, the more questions it raised, whether the Russian goals were only limited to South Ossetia, where the problem began, or was it to reshape Georgia or whether to send a message to countries in the Russian neighborhood, a message to the world. We need to take all of that into account in our own longer term response to this crises.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador, thank you very much.

Ambassador KHALILZAD: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Zalmay Khalilzad is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. And once again, the news this morning is that the president of Russia has ordered an end to Russian military operations in Georgia.

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