Pentagon, U.S. State Department Monitoring Georgian Situation
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2008 The Defense Department is closely watching developments in South Ossetia, in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, a senior Pentagon spokesman said here today.
News reports cite Russian tanks crossing the border into South Ossetia and of fighting between Georgian troops and rebels in and around Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s capital city.
“We’re monitoring it very closely,” spokesman Bryan Whitman said of the situation during a briefing with Pentagon reporters.
Georgia declared its independence from the then-Soviet Union in 1991. However, many South Ossetia residents continued to profess Russian allegiance.
Whitman said about 130 U.S. military and civilian personnel are currently located near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, helping train Georgian troops for an upcoming deployment to Iraq. All the Americans are accounted for, and none has been injured, Whitman said.
The U.S. State Department is the lead U.S. agency regarding the situation in South Ossetia, Whitman said. The State Department is “in close contact with senior Russian and Georgian officials. We’re urging Moscow to press South Ossetia’s de facto leaders to stop firing,” Gonzalo R. Gallegos, acting deputy spokesman for the State Department, said yesterday during a Washington news conference.
At the same time, senior U.S. diplomats are “urging Tbilisi to maintain restraint,” Gallegos said.
“We’re very concerned about the situation,” the State Department spokesman said. “We call for an immediate end to the violence and for direct talks between the parties.”
Gallegos rebuffed a reporter’s question as to which side started the fighting. “It’s important that both sides stop firing, that they sit down and they discuss this in a peaceful manner,” he said.
At the NATO summit meeting held earlier this year in Bucharest, Romania, the United States urged the alliance to offer the path of NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine, both former Soviet Union republics. The Russian government has often voiced its displeasure about the concept of eastern European countries joining NATO, especially former members of the Soviet Union, like Georgia and Ukraine.
In a NATO statement released today, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer cited his concern over the events. The secretary’s statement also called for “an immediate end of the armed clashes and direct talks between the parties.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also issued a statement yesterday expressing his concern about the mounting violence. In his statement, the senior U.N. official also urged all parties “to refrain from any action that could further escalate the situation and threaten the stability of the region.”