The Cable

Georgian president: Russia has to compromise if it wants into WTO

The nation of Georgia is in a position to block Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), a top goal of the U.S.-Russia reset policy. The Georgians say that they are willing to strike a deal with Russia but only if Moscow abides by WTO rules on trade and customs policy, a position that would require Russian concessions in its conflict over the occupied territories, according to the president of Georgia.

Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's president, sat down for an exclusive interview with The Cable during his recent visit to Washington. He said that after lot of stalling and hand wringing, negotiations between Tbilisi and Moscow over the latter's desire to join the WTO had begun. As a WTO member, Georgia has veto power over any new additions to the organizations. Saakashvili said it was too early to tell if the Russians were negotiating in good faith or willing to make real concessions.

The Russian government refused to talk directly with Georgia for a long time and expected the United States to deliver Georgia's support for Russia's WTO accession, Saakashvili said.

"They were telling the Americans that we will make a deal with you and Georgia comes as part of the package. I heard some Russians say that it just takes one call from Vice President [Joseph] Biden to Saakashvili to convince him and make him shut up,'" the president said.

"But it's not like this and the Americans know it's not like this -- and they've done their best to clarify this to the Russians. Exactly because of that American position, finally the Russians came to the negotiating table. That's already great progress."

Obama administration officials have made it clear that Washington won't become involved in WTO negotiations between Russia and Georgia. The first round of those talks took place in the city of Bern with Swiss mediation earlier this month. The next round is scheduled to begin in May. Saakashvili said that Georgia was willing to be flexible but that the initial Russian proposals, which only dealt with Georgian exports to Russia, were not constructive.

"Some Russians were saying ‘we'll let back in your wine and you will change your position.'" Saakashvili said. "We don't have any wine left to sell to the Russians. That's not the bargaining chip. We need transparency of border transactions and customs issues. That's where we need to find mutually acceptable solutions with the Russians."

Of course, one huge problem is how to define the Georgian-Russian border. For Tbilisi, that includes the borders between Russia and the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it considers breakaway republics. Russia has recognized the territories as independent states and has troops stationed in both regions.

"It's up to the Russians to show that they can go to flexible and compromise solutions," Saakashvili said. "Russians have said we can get [WTO membership] without Georgia. Good luck. Let them try. But Georgia is not going to compromise our principles."

Saakashvili also said that he is willing to limit the negotiations to the economic arena, leaving aside contentious political issues, such as Russia's failure to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire that ended the 2008 conflict. But he doubted the Russian government could keep the two issues separate.

"It would be counter-productive to go to political issues, but unfortunately [throughout the recent history of Russian-Georgia relations] Russians have turned every single economic issue into a political one. That's where we find ourselves," he said.

Saakashvili also talked about Georgia's desire to start buying defensive weapons from the United States. There has been an unofficial, unstated ban on selling heavy weapons to Georgia, a ban Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) have often complained about.

"It's not in our interest to leave a stalwart partner, a NATO-aspirant country, without the needs to properly defend itself," McCain said at Tuesday's SASC hearing.

Saakashvili said he takes the administration at its word that there is no ban on weapons sales to Georgia and that some sales of small arms are "in the pipeline." But he added that Georgia really needs heavier weapons that could be used to defend the country in the case of another conflict with Russia.

"We don't' really need small arms, we have plenty of them and actually there are many alternative sources to shop for them," he said. "What Georgia really needs is something that it cannot get from anywhere else and that's anti-air and anti-tank [weapons] and that's completely obvious ... that's where should be the next stage of the cooperation."

Georgia has been striving to prove its value as a U.S. ally in a tumultuous region. Georgia has over 1,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan in some of the most dangerous areas in the South of Afghanistan and Saakashvili offered to send more troops in his March meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, he said.

The U.S. is also investing in Georgia. Saakashvili highlighted that the U.S. military is increasing its involvement on the ground in Georgia, for example by opening a $100 million U.S. Army Medical Research lab in Tbilisi as part of the Nunn-Lugar initiative.

Saakashvili said that the United States still must lead in supporting emerging democracies and use its moral authority and soft power to push for human rights and democratic change in countries with oppressive governments.

"This administration has been holding the line, at the U.N. Security Council, at the OSCE, at the arms control talks. American was the first major power to call a spade a spade, to call Russia's action in Georgia a military occupation. This moral support is paramount for any nation and these kind of things count," he said.

"This ultimately will make the whole process of advancing freedom irreversible."

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The Cable

Steinberg leaving State, Burns moves up

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg is leaving the Obama administration and Undersecretary of State Bill Burns will be nominated to replace him, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told her employees on Wednesday.

"For more than two years, Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg has helped guide this Department and our nation's foreign policy. He has been an invaluable friend and colleague -- a calm head during crises, a voice of reason and experience during policy debates, and always a consistent advocate for the women and men of the State Department and USAID," Clinton wrote in a Wednesday email to staff.

"So it is with sadness for all of us but excitement for him that I am writing to share the news that Jim has accepted a new job as Dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, one of our nation's finest institutions and a place dear to my own heart."

Steinberg had been rumored to be leaving State for some time. The Cable had reported that he had explored the idea of becoming dean of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. He had originally told the White House he was interested in staying at State for two years; he leaves his position almost exactly two years after taking office.

In her note, Clinton focused on the fact that Steinberg had been intimately involved in a wide range of policy issues while at State, especially those dealing with the Asia Pacific region. He was a key official in the Obama administration's policy toward China and coined the term "strategic reassurance," though that phrase never really caught on.

He was also a key part of the administration's drive to increase pressure on Iran and became the lead Obama official in dealing with the Balkan countries, an issue he was deeply invested in. He pushed for adherence to principles of non-proliferation when making civilian nuclear agreements with other countries. He was an important voice regarding the administration's policy in Sudan.

Steinberg also represented the State Department at the White House on regular basis in both deputy-level and principle-level meetings. Some speculated that Steinberg was the White House's guy at State, more connected to Obama than to Clinton. But Clinton depended on Steinberg and trusted him to represent her in almost any situation.

"He has been a fixture at the meetings convened by the National Security Council, sharing his wisdom and experience with our colleagues from across the government," Clinton wrote. "For me, Jim has been a friend and invaluable counselor. For two years he played Oscar to [former Deputy Secretary] Jack Lew's Felix, and forged a new and effective partnership with [new] Deputy Secretary Tom Nides. This building really won't be the same without him."

Clinton announced that Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns will be nominated to replace Steinberg. Burns, the highest-ranking career foreign-service officer at State, breaks the mold by taking what is usually a job given to political appointees.

But Burns has been at the center of the State Department's handling of the wave of Arab revolutions. He is also Clinton's trusted partner, and is well respected throughout Foggy Bottom.

"Bill is one of our nation's most distinguished diplomats and most talented public servants.  As our most senior Foreign Service Officer, he has served all over the world and all over the Building," wrote Clinton. "If confirmed, he will bring incomparable depth and experience to the job, as well as important continuity during a time of change and upheaval in the world."

Full text of Clinton's letter after the jump:

From: Secretary Clinton
Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 10:15 AM
Subject: Jim Steinberg

THE SECRETARY OF STATE

WASHINGTON

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

For more than two years, Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg has helped guide this Department and our nation's foreign policy.  He has been an invaluable friend and colleague -- a calm head during crises, a voice of reason and experience during policy debates, and always a consistent advocate for the women and men of the State Department and USAID. 

So it is with sadness for all of us but excitement for him that I am writing to share the news that Jim has accepted a new job as Dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, one of our nation's finest institutions and a place dear to my own heart.  We will miss Jim -- he really is one of a kind -- but I am pleased that his talents and insights will be dedicated to molding future leaders and thinkers.

I learned to trust Jim's intellect, instincts and his deep understanding of international affairs during the 1990s. So when I became Secretary of State, he was a natural choice for Deputy.  I could not have predicted, however, how indispensable he would be. On every foreign policy challenge, big and small, he has helped formulate our policy and oversee its execution. 

Jim has been particularly instrumental in shaping our renewed engagement in the Asia-Pacific, where much of the history of the 21st century will be written. From managing our expanding relationship with China to reaffirming our historic alliance with Japan to addressing challenges on the Korean Peninsula, Jim has been at the center of shaping of our efforts. 

He has also ably and effectively represented the State Department in the interagency process here in Washington.  He has been a fixture at the meetings convened by the National Security Council, sharing his wisdom and experience with our colleagues from across the government. And he has also been a frequent and forceful voice in public debates -- including on the Hill -- always making the case for a thoughtful and principled foreign policy.

For me, Jim has been a friend and invaluable counselor.  For two years he played Oscar to Jack Lew's Felix, and forged a new and effective partnership with Deputy Secretary Tom Nides. This building really won't be the same without him.

While it is not possible to replace Jim Steinberg, I am delighted to announce that President Obama intends to nominate Under Secretary Bill Burns to follow Jim as our next Deputy.  Bill is one of our nation's most distinguished diplomats and most talented public servants.  As our most senior Foreign Service Officer, he has served all over the world and all over the Building. If confirmed, he will bring incomparable depth and experience to the job, as well as important continuity during a time of change and upheaval in the world. 

Please join me in bidding a fond farewell to Jim and wishing him all the best in his future endeavors.

Sincerely,

Hillary Rodham Clinton

 

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