/ 18 September 2008

US mulls further steps against Russia

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to deliver on Thursday what officials describe as a ”significant” speech on United States relations with Russia, as US officials considered further steps against Moscow for its actions in Georgia.

The State Department’s number three, William Burns, told the Senate on Wednesday that Washington might go beyond decisions in the last few weeks to suspend US-Russian military programmes and civil nuclear cooperation.

”We continue to review other options,” Burns, the undersecretary for political affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He stressed that Washington sought to work closely with its European allies.

”It is important to reinforce for Russia the consequences of its actions in Georgia as a means of ensuring compliance with its commitments to President [Nicolas] Sarkozy,” Burns said.

In Moscow, Sarkozy signed a deal with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on September 8 that called for Russian troop withdrawals to pre-August 6 positions and other actions to end the crisis.

The crisis is not just over Russia’s August 7 invasion of Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia but also over its recognition of both South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia.

The White House on Wednesday called on Russia to respect Georgia’s territorial integrity and urged Moscow to pull its forces back to where they were before the conflict flared up.

Burns, who served as US ambassador to Moscow until June, said that Rice spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this week to discuss compliance with the deal.

A senior State Department official told reporters, meanwhile, that Rice would on Thursday give ”a significant speech about US-Russia relations as well as about Russia’s place within the international system”.

The speech will mention ”the international system and its response to Russia”, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

When asked if the speech would mention future possible measures or would be limited to the current responses of the international community, the official mentioned ”future possible” measures.

Since mid-August, Rice has hinted at retaliatory steps for Moscow’s ”disproportionate” military action against Georgia.

Several US officials have since raised the possibility of suspending negotiations for admitting Russia to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

US officials have also spoken of possibly excluding Russia from the Group of Eight leading industrial nations and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In his Senate testimony, Burns did not discuss possible retaliatory steps but noted that Russia has paid an economic price for its invasion of Georgia, something which he said could bring possible political consequences later.

However, Burns added he did not know ”how and when that is actually going to sink in”. — AFP