Rice keeps up pressure on Moscow

August 18, 2008 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, August 18 – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads for Europe Monday for crisis talks with NATO allies on the situation in Georgia and to sign a key missile defense shield pact with Poland.

Rice confirmed she would travel from the meeting in Brussels to Warsaw to ink the deal on installing US interceptor missiles on Polish territory, a move sure to further inflame tensions with Russia.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice would be traveling "to Brussels, Belgium and Warsaw, Poland, departing on August 18," Monday.

"In Warsaw, Secretary Rice will sign a formal agreement with Poland on behalf of the United States for the establishment and operation of a ballistic missile defense interceptor site in Poland," McCormack said in a statement.

While in Brussels, Rice will also meet EU leadership "to include Foreign Minister of France Bernard Kouchner, European Union High Representative Javier Solana, and European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Fererro-Waldner," the spokesman said.

"We are going to help rebuild Georgia into a strong Georgian state," Rice told Fox News Sunday.

"The Russians will have failed in their effort to undermine Georgia. And we will be looking at what we can do with the states around that region as well."

Rice urged Russia to honor a pledge to withdraw its forces from Georgia, warning Moscow’s reputation lay in tatters.

"There is a ceasefire and Russia is currently not in compliance with this ceasefire," Rice said, urging Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to keep his side of the French-brokered deal.

She added the Russians "have just this morning (Sunday) announced that their troops will begin to withdraw and withdraw fully and completely back to the lines prior to this conflict tomorrow. On Monday.

"This is the promise that the Russian president has given to the French president … I hope this time he’ll keep his word."

"Russia’s reputation as a potential partner in international institutions, diplomatic, political, security, economic, is, frankly, in tatters," she told NBC’s Meet the Press in a separate live interview.

The top US diplomat briefed US President George W. Bush over the weekend at his Texas ranch after her lightning visit to Georgia last week, where during marathon talks she persuaded Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to sign the ceasefire deal.

Moscow is furious at Georgia’s attempt to join NATO, and alliance foreign ministers will meet on Tuesday to show their support for Georgia. But they remain divided on how to deal with a resurgent Moscow, with some western leaders unwilling to see ties with oil-rich Russia deteriorate any further.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday before talks with Saakashvili: "Georgia will become a member of NATO if it wants to — and it does want to."

It was one of the strongest statements yet of support for Georgia’s NATO membership bid.

Rice also said Friday during a press conference in Tbilisi that she was certain NATO would remain open to embracing both Georgia and Ukraine as members.

Rice did not specify what reprisals might follow, but US officials have mentioned in past days Moscow’s bid to join several exclusive clubs such as the World Trade Organization.

Others have hinted that Moscow could be barred from the G8, which may return to being the Group of Seven most industrialized nations as in 1997.

Relations between Russia and the former Soviet Republic of Poland reached a new low after Moscow voiced fury at Warsaw’s sudden announcement Thursday that it had reached a deal on the long-touted missile shield with the US.

Poland, a former Soviet satellite and now staunch US ally which joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004, had earlier appeared reticent over the deal, but clinched it days after Russian tanks rolled into Georgia.

The timing of the announcement infuriated Russia which said the weapons were clearly pointed at Moscow and warned they made Poland a legitimate military target.


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