Negotiators from all sides and mediators noted constructiveness of the Geneva meeting on November 19 and agreed to continue discussions on security and displaced persons on December 17-18.
The second round of EU/UN/OSCE-mediated talks in Geneva were held in two separate informal working groups with negotiators from Georgia, Russia, the United States, as well as from two breakaway regions meeting each other in an individual capacity without identifying the entities they were representing and without holding an official plenary session.
The format allowed avoiding differences over the status of negotiators, which was the reason behind the suspension of the first meeting in Geneva on October 15.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said that representatives from the Abkhaz government-in-exile and the South Ossetian provisional administration – both Tbilisi-loyal entities – were present during the meetings of the working groups – one dealing with security and stability and another one with return of displaced persons.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on November 19 that the meeting was “conducted in a positive working atmosphere.”
Maxim Gvinjia, the deputy foreign minister of breakaway Abkhazia, who participated in the meeting, said it was the “first rational and constructive talks since the [August] events in South Ossetia.”
“The constructiveness of the talks was provided by the fact that all the participants were represented in an equal status,” Gvinjia said.
His remarks were echoed by Grigory Karasin, the Russian deputy foreign minister, who said after the talks that “it was of principal importance, that all three South Caucasus states were represented with equal status.” Along with Georgia, he was referring to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Moscow has recognized as independent states.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry, however, stressed in its statement that meetings “took place on an informal basis in individual capacity.”
“The participants were there as individuals, though let me state an obvious fact, everybody knows who everybody else is,” Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, told journalists after the talks. “And while every delegation at some point made clear its bottom line position on the larger issues, no delegation tried to drive the discussions over the cliff.”
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said that “the discussions demonstrated that the format had been well prepared and functioning.” It, however, also noted that Tbilisi was looking forward “to the continuation of the talks on December 17-18 in the plenary and working groups alike.”
When asked if the November 19 meetings’ format would be a rule for the future entire Geneva process, the U.S. negotiator, Daniel Fried, responded: “Not every session will be just like this one, no.” He also said that Pierre Morel, EU’s special envoy for Georgia crisis and co-chair of the talks, would continue preparing the next round of the meeting.
Giga Bokeria, the Georgian deputy foreign minister, said after the meeting that “a new security regime” should be established and “the first step” in this regard should be allowing all the international monitors to enter inside the breakaway regions. He said that he hoped Russia, which is not in favor of letting EU monitors in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, would revise its positions on the matter.
Grigory Karasin, the Russian deputy foreign minister, however, said after the meeting that for Moscow stability in the areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia was source of more serious concern. As far as international presence inside the two regions are concerned, Karasin said, that Moscow was insisting on modifying mandates of UN and OSCE missions in Georgia. In particular, he said, a new mandate for the OSCE Mission to Georgia was needed, as well as a mandate for a separate OSCE field presence in South Ossetia, which would be independent of the Tbilisi office. Moscow is pushing for a similar approach for the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, which is dealing with the Abkhaz issues.
The Georgian negotiators said that they had raised the issues of “Russia’s non-compliance with the six-point cease-fire agreement” at the meeting, as well as the need for new police and peacekeeping missions.
The Georgian side, according to the Foreign Ministry, has also noted during the talks about “frequent facts of lootings and kidnappings, as well as the attacks on Georgian law enforcers and civilians, as a result of which 10 persons have been killed over the last two months.”
“Participants agreed in principle to elaborate a day-to-day incident prevention and management mechanism, to reflect upon a cease-fire/peacekeeping regime setting forth the rules for the minimal security framework along the administrative border and to establish crossing points in order to ensure that the local population’s movement is unhindered,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
Pierre Morel, EU’s special envoy for Georgia crisis, said after the meeting that all the sides “recognised the necessity of allowing the return of displaced people in conditions of security and dignity.”
It is expected that UN refugee agency and European Commission will send a mission before the next round of talks to the region to assess the situation of displaced persons.
Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, said that “it was a constructive day.”
“Today’s session of the Geneva discussions was far more successful than the unsuccessful session last month. No one walked out. There were in fact productive discussions of some of the tough issues,” he said at a news conference.
He said that the co-chairs – EU, OSCE and UN - would develop proposals based on the November 19 discussions, “particularly with respect to incident containment monitoring and resolution.”
Fried also said that “deep differences” about the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as about responsibility for the war remained between the parties. “However, no person, no party tried to create a crisis,” he added.
Johan Verbeke, the UN's special envoy, told journalists after the talks that “heavy political questions” such as status “on which no agreement in the very short term can be reached anyway” were not addressed.
“We agreed to suspend those questions and in the meantime to address concrete issues which are directly related to the people themselves,” he said.
Finnish Foreign Minister, Alexander Stubb, who now holds the OSCE chairmanship, said in a statement released after being briefed by his special envoy at talks, that the talks were “moving forward and have entered an operational phase.”
“They [the parties] moved from procedural discussions to practical matters that affect people on the ground,” he said.