BARVIKHA, September 9 – Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili gave a qualified welcome Tuesday to the news that Russia had agreed to pull its troops from all of Georgia except two separatist regions.,
Saakashvili insisted that any long-term solution to the conflict had to respect his country’s territorial integrity, including the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Earlier, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had pledged to pull back from Georgia apart from the two breakaway regions, after talks Monday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who led a European Union delegation.
But Moscow’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was "irrevocable", said Medvedev.
"We made a choice for ourselves," Medvedev said. "This choice is final and irrevocable."
During the talks in Russia, Sarkozy handed Medvedev a letter from Saakashvili promising not to use force again.
"Russia received a guarantee from the European Union and from France as representative of the European Union on non-use of force by the Georgian side," said Medvedev.
There would be a "complete withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping forces" from zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia 10 days after the deployment of the EU observers, he added.
Under the deal brokered by Sarkozy, Medvedev agreed to the deployment of at least 200 European Union observers in Georgia by October 1 to monitor the pull-out.
Sarkozy, the current EU president, said negotiations on a new EU-Russia partnership agreement, put on hold over the crisis, could resume "as early as October" if Moscow fulfilled the agreed measures.
But speaking later in Georgia he warned that if Russia failed to meet its commitment to a troop withdrawal, the EU would draw its own conclusions.
Saakashvili, speaking to reporters in Tblisi after meeting the EU delegation led by Sarkozy, said that Russia’s agreement to pull back its troops was only the beginning of a solution.
"We are simply at the very beginning of this major task and there is still a lot to be done," he said.
"We must continue to implement the European solution to reach a definitive solution respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity and the principle of justice for our country and for our region," he added.
He announced that a summit, largely focused on reconstruction, would be held in Tbilisi next month with the participation of Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and representatives of international financial organisations.
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, another member of the EU delegation, expressed the European Union’s continuing "solidarity" with Georgia at a press conference in Tblisi.
"Georgia can count on the solidarity and the engagement of the European Union in these difficult hours. The EU is ready to deepen its political and economic relations with Georgia," he said.
Washington stuck to its firm line, with US President George W. Bush taking a long-awaited decision to freeze a landmark civilian nuclear agreement with Russia in protest at Moscow’s military moves in Georgia.
"The president intends to notify Congress that he has today rescinded his prior determination regarding the US-Russia agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation," a statement said.
An official at the Russian foreign ministry described the US move as "regrettable" and "out of keeping with bilateral relations."
Russian tanks and troops surged into Georgia on August 8 to rebuff a Georgian offensive to retake South Ossetia.
Moscow argued that it repelled Georgian troops last month to protect thousands of people to whom it had granted Russian citizenship since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Hundreds of people on both sides are estimated to have been killed in the conflict, which wrought extensive destruction on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali. Tens of thousands fled their homes.
The conflict sent relations between Russia and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Georgia, whose army was routed by the Russians after its ill-fated assault to regain control of South Ossetia, says Russia has almost 1,500 soldiers still in Georgia proper which it regards as an occupying force.
In another development Monday, Georgia accused Russia before the UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague of conducting a long-running campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in Georgian territory.
Russia has not responded publicly to the Georgian application, but alleges that Georgia committed "genocide" with its assault on Tskhinvali.