US has little influence in Georgia crisis, Rice won't interrupt holiday
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Washington has little room for maneuver in the Caucasus conflict amid perceptions that it helped fuel the crisis by over-inflating Georgia's hopes of US support for its young democracy, analysts say.
"This is probably a conflict where the United States would not be accepted by both sides as a mediator," said analyst Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador in Kiev.
"The Georgians would welcome American participation. I suspect the Russians would probably not accept us because in Moscow, we are seen as too close to Georgia," added the analyst from the Brookings Institute.
US President George W. Bush Monday condemned the Russian military offensive against Georgia, triggered after Tbilisi sent troops into the pro-Moscow rebel region of South Ossetia seeking to regain control from the separatists.
"I said this violence is unacceptable," Bush told US broadcaster NBC. "I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia."
But Bush is acutely aware that Washington needs Moscow's support on several key outstanding international dossiers including the crisis over Iran's suspect nuclear program and moves to denuclearize North Korea.
In a plaintive reminder to the United States of its support for his 2003 Rose Revolution, Georgia's staunchly pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili sought to remind his ally of how far Tbilisi has come in the past few years.
"No country of the former Soviet Union has made more progress toward consolidating democracy, eradicating corruption and building an independent foreign policy than Georgia," he wrote Monday in the Wall Street Journal.
"This conflict is therefore about our common trans-Atlantic values of liberty and democracy," wrote the Georgian leader.
The most charismatic of the Rose Revolution leaders who ousted veteran leader and former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, the US-educated Saakashvili swept to the presidency in early 2004 on a wave of popular support.
His efforts to implement sweeping free-market reforms won high praise from the West, including Bush, who hailed Georgia as "a beacon of democracy" during a 2005 visit to Tbilisi.
The United States is now seeking to win backing for a strongly worded UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.
The resolution would also demand a return to the status quo before Georgia sent forces into its breakaway South Ossetia enclave.
But with Moscow holding a power of veto in the Security Council there is little chance that it will pass a resolution strongly criticizing its own actions, and discussions have been deadlocked for days.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also been noticeably absent on the diplomatic scene, having failed to interrupt her holidays to fly to Tbilisi in support of the Georgian government.
Instead senior State Department official, Matthew Bryza, who oversees the Caucasus region was sent, two days later than planned, to join a joint EU-US mediation effort to win a ceasefire.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is leading the mediation mission for the EU, said Monday the United States was "in a sense part of the conflict," between Russia and Georgia.
"You talk about the Americans, of course they are in a sense part of the conflict, that is why we must emphasise the presence and the strength of the European Union," Kouchner told French radio.
But State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood sought Monday to dismiss the notion that the US was relatively powerless in face of the escalating conflict.
"We and the Europeans have leverage ... The Russians know how seriously we take the situation," he said.
"The US relations with Russia is of course a complicated one, but certainly 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 bombings, to agree to an immediate ceasefire and to have discussions with Georgia."