European Union foreign ministers agreed Wednesday to expand the bloc`s role in Georgia, including the possible dispatch of EU peace monitors to firm up the fragile peace deal between Russia and Georgia.
"We are determined to act on the ground," French Foreign Bernard Kouchner said after chairing an emergency EU meeting to discuss the crisis. "The European Union cannot be indifferent to this war, these massacres on our doorstep."
He told reporters he was "encouraged" by offers from EU nations to participate in a mission to Georgia, but said it was too early to discuss details of the EU`s expanded role.
Georgia`s foreign minister made an impassioned appeal for the Europeans to send a mission, claiming that Russia was violating the cease-fire agreement brokered Tuesday by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.
"European monitors have to be on the ground," Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said. "Europe has to get engaged physically on the ground and Europe has to stop that from happening."
Sarkozy said Tuesday in Georgia that the EU may send peacekeepers, but Kouchner said it was premature to talk about troops, suggesting that the bloc is more likely to send some sort of unarmed observer mission to back up a handful of monitors long deployed in the region by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Russia describes its own troops in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkazia as peacekeepers and has opposed previous suggestions to replace them with European or other international forces. However, Kouchner said Moscow had indicated that it could accept more international observers.
"You need people to observe that the cease-fire is maintained, then you need to have observers and monitors," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. "Eventually you may need something else, but that will require a U.N. Security Council resolution."
EU ministers also avoided any action to punish Russia for its military action in Georgia, although they agreed to a British request consider in September how to proceed with negotiations on a major cooperation agreement with Moscow.
"The European Union will want to consider how it proceeds with the partnership and cooperation agreement," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters.
Georgia has asked the EU to freeze its "strategic partnership" talks with Russia, but Europe`s room for maneuver is limited by the dependence of many EU members on Russian oil and gas imports.
Efforts to forge a united Western response to the crisis will resume next Tuesday when NATO foreign ministers are expected to meet in response to an American request for emergency talks.