France's Sarkozy on Russia-Georgia ceasefire trip

09:11, 12 August 2008
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Seeking to use his good relations with Moscow and his country`s EU presidency

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to leave for Russia and Georgia on Tuesday, seeking to use his good relations with Moscow and his country`s presidency of the European Union to broker a ceasefire between the warring states, according to Reuters.

Fresh from his success in getting Arab and Israeli leaders to sit at the same table for the launch of his Mediterranean Union project last month, Sarkozy is keen to further polish his statesman`s credentials to boost limp support at home.

But he faces a difficult task as Russia has gained the upper hand militarily in Georgia`s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Moscow seems in no mood to compromise.

Georgia appealed for international intervention on Monday and pulled its battered forces back to defend the capital as Russian troops moved further into its territory, ignoring Western pleas to halt.

Sarkozy was due to arrive in Moscow at 0910 GMT and meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev before holding a news conference at 1040 GMT. He was then scheduled to travel to Georgia to meet President Mikheil Saakashvili in the evening.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was sent to lay the groundwork for a deal. He put a peace plan to Georgia on Sunday.

Saakashvili has said he agreed to the plan, under which a mixed peacekeeping force would be deployed and troops would return to pre-conflict positions.

Russia has not yet responded publicly to the plan but France will be hoping its heeding of Russian concerns over Georgian membership of NATO will help it make headway.

France was among the states that resisted a U.S.-led push to grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan, a roadmap to NATO accession, at an April summit. NATO leaders eventually declared that Georgia and Ukraine would join the alliance one day.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have soured partly because of Georgia`s pro-Western stance and its desire to join NATO, which would bring the alliance to Russia`s southern flank.

Sarkozy has also built good relations with Russian Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin.

The French leader came under fire from rights groups and the opposition in December for being one of few European leaders to congratulate Putin on his party`s parliamentary election victory in a ballot that was widely criticised as unfair.

The French president will be looking to cash in on his support for Putin, which contrasts with the more difficult ties Moscow has had with Britain because of spy scandals and with Washington over a planned U.S. missile defence shield.

Any deal would also boost Sarkozy at the helm of the European Union, which France presides until the end of the year, and reinforce his credentials as a peace broker after a trip to Israel in June during which he said he wanted to facilitate dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.


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