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Friday, October 20, 2006

US says deeply concerned at Georgia-Russia tensions

BRUSSELS, Oct 20 (Reuters) - The United States expressed deep concern on Friday at Georgian-Russian tensions ahead of an EU summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin expected to focus human rights and Georgia.

Speaking after a visit to Georgia and before heading to Russia, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried called Moscow's sanctions against Georgia regrettable and its harassment and deportations of Georgians "deeply troubling".

Fried also said Washington backed European efforts to help resolve "frozen conflicts" left over from the Cold War, such as the breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, which underlie the tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow.

"All of these issues are gravely complicated by the current tensions," Fried told a news briefing in Brussels, where he met EU and NATO officials. "We are obviously deeply concerned."

Fried said he had urged Georgia to do all it could to work with Russia and stressed there were no military solutions to conflicts in the breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions.

"Military options make no sense under any circumstances," he said. "They (Georgia) must do everything they can to promote peaceful solutions. We do not support military options, period."

Accusations that Georgia was planning to seize back Abkhazia by force were among official explanations given by Russia for the sanctions it imposed on Georgia last month.

But Fried said the Georgian government had assured him that it viewed military options as "catastrophes to be avoided".

Moscow has never officially suggested it could recognise the independence of Abkhazia, where a majority of the population carries a Russian passport.

But Russian officials have said that if the Serbian province of Kosovo is given independence, similar requests from Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Moldova's separatist Transdniestria province could gain more legitimacy.

Fried welcomed an EU statement ahead of Friday's EU summit with Putin in Finland that criticised Moscow's treatment of Georgia.

"A strong, modern Russia is a Russia that ought to be able to get along with its neighbours," he said. "Georgia and Russia are neighbours ... they need to find ways to live together, to work together, to cooperate. Tensions do not do any good."

EU president Finland invited Putin for dinner with the 25 EU leaders to discuss energy ties. But the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the Kremlin's heavy-handed treatment of former Soviet Georgia have heightened European concerns have soured the mood.
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