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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 16, 2008

Remarks by Secretary Rice to the Travel Pool
Prairie Chapel Ranch
Crawford, Texas

9:16 A.M. CDT

SECRETARY RICE: Okay, I'll just take your questions for a few minutes.

Q Madam Secretary, did the United States misjudge Putin and Medvedev in this incident?

SECRETARY RICE: I think everybody understands that Russia had a choice to make over the last several years, and it was a choice that should have been opened to Russia, which was a choice to act in a 21st-century way, fully integrate into the international institutions. I think it's very much worthwhile to have given Russia that chance.

Now, I think the behavior recently suggests that perhaps Russia has not taken that route, and either that they have not taken that route or that they would like to have it both ways -- that is, that you behave in a 1968 way toward your small neighbors by invading them and, at the same time, you continue to integrate into the political and diplomatic and economic and security structures of the international community. And I think the fact is, you can't have it both ways.

Now, we'll take our time; we'll evaluate. But already, the consequences for Russia of its behavior is that it has rallied people to -- against them, and many of the small states, which were once captive nations, have rallied to the side of Georgia. That in and of itself is a very different circumstance than we might have faced several decades ago.

Q Foreign Minister Lavrov says that Russian troops in Georgia -- he says -- he believes they don't have a timetable for withdrawing. He says a pullout will take "as long as needed," and it will depend on Russian units being able to implement unspecified "additional security measures." Does that concern you?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, that's what we want to clarify, because there -- in the French text that had been negotiated, there was additional security measures. It's a very limited mandate for Russian peacekeepers who were there at the time of the outbreak of hostilities. In other words, no peacekeepers who had come in after the outbreak of hostilities but the ones who were already there, to have limited patrols in a prescribed area within the zone of conflict not to go into Georgian urban areas, not to tie up the highway.

That's what President Sarkozy's letter to President Saakashvili detailed. The French had very detailed notes of what their conversation with the Russians had been about this. And one reason that I wanted it in writing, that the Georgians wanted it in writing, was that nobody wanted the Russians to make the kinds of claims that they may now be making.

So it should be very clear what this -- these limited security measures are. The other thing is, they're only in place until international monitors can get in and we are well underway with the OSCE in making those monitors available to go into the zone of conflict in larger numbers than they have been.

Secondly, as to withdrawal, President Sarkozy told me that President Medvedev had told him that the "minute Saakashvili signed that document, Russian forces would begin to withdraw."

Q But they haven't begun -- but they haven't.

SECRETARY RICE: So, from my point of view -- and I am in contact with the French -- the Russians are perhaps already not honoring their word. But now that President Medvedev has reportedly signed the cease-fire agreement, I assume that Russian forces are going to begin to withdraw expeditiously.

Q What if they don't? There's no sign that they are.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, then, let's not speculate. I have to assume for now that the word of the President of Russia to the presidency of the EU is going to be respected.

Q Can you describe how the process is going to work by which the future of these two regions is determined?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me just remind everyone that the questions about this region, these regions, has been going on for a long time. This was a very bad initial -- initially just a flare-up in what has been a pretty volatile region. It was in the overreach of Russian forces and Russian military operations into Georgia this might have been confined to the zone of conflict itself, which unfortunately has been volatile for more than a decade.

But there have been numerous peace plans offered for South Ossetia, for Abkhazia. The Georgians have very often offered substantial autonomy to these two regions. We have pressed very hard for there to be recognition of minority rights in these regions. So there's a lot of groundwork that has been laid here, but what has to happen now, when these international discussions intensify over the next period of time after this -- after the cease-fire is in place, is that it all has to proceed from where it proceeded from before, which is the territorial integrity of Georgia be respected; that these regions, as the President just said, are within the internationally recognized boundaries of Georgia; and that the Security Council resolutions, which have been passed numerous times, will be respected. And there will have to be a negotiated solution on that basis.

Q Is it possible that Russia winds up -- that these regions wind up becoming a part of the -- of Russia, or become more in the orbit of Russia?

SECRETARY RICE: These regions have elements that are pro-Russian; they have some Russian population. It's a complicated demographic. But when it's resolved -- and we'd hoped that it would have been resolved some time ago -- but when it is resolved -- I mean, the underlying conflicts -- it has to be resolved on the basis of the territorial integrity of Georgia and that these regions are a part of the internationally recognized borders of Georgia.

Q But Russia has said explicitly that they are not prepared to return to the status quo. I mean, how do you get around that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, then, Russia would be in violation of extant Security Council resolutions.

Q What real repercussions are being discussed in case they don't? I mean, we've heard an awful lot of rhetoric. But, I mean, is there really serious discussion about kicking them out of the G8, or is there really serious discussion about the WTO?

SECRETARY RICE: We'll take our time and look at further consequences for what Russia has done. But I would just note that there are already consequences. There has been universal concern within the European Union, the United States, et cetera, about the way Russia has done this. I think that you will start to see reports come out about what Russian forces engaged in.

The -- already you have the states that are -- were former captive nations, like Poland, the Baltic states, even states like Ukraine speaking out against this kind of behavior.

Look, I just want to go back to --

Q But Russia doesn't care about all this talk, you know.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think, actually, Russia will care about this talk, because it's not just talk, it is about Russia's standing in the international community. I want to go back to the point. In 1968, when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, it occupied the capital, overthrew the government, and paid no consequence. And one reason it paid no consequence is that the Soviet Union actually didn't care about its status in the international system. It didn't want to be member of the WTO; it didn't want to be in the OECD; it didn't want to be seen as a responsible player in international politics.

Well, that's not Russia of 2008. And in fact, President Medvedev, who outlined just very recently a very forward-looking strategy for Russia, integration into the international economic order, Russia playing a positive role, Russia being a leading-edge state in terms of modern communications and so forth -- that's at stake.

Q Why not travel to Russia and speak to the Russians face to face?

SECRETARY RICE: I spoke to the Russian Foreign Minister just last night, and we'll continue to keep open lines of communication to Russia.

Q Are you going to sign a missile deal next week?

SECRETARY RICE: It has already been initialed, and I'm sure we'll sign it very shortly.

Q Can I ask you about the NATO -- your mission to -- the NATO mission next week? Do you plan on asking NATO to reconsider not bringing -- not offering a MAP to Ukraine and Georgia? What's the plan --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the first thing we'll do in the NAC next week is review whether there has been adherence to the agreement that Russia signed. I think that will be the first issue for people. Secondly, we do want to send a strong message of support for Georgia, because one other point that I should have made in response to Deb and to Toby is, Georgia is going to emerge from this, and it will be rebuilt, its infrastructure will be rebuilt; it will resume its place as one of the leading economies -- in fact, it has not yet -- it hasn't even lost that place.

And so what the Russians will have achieved is that they will have demonstrated that they can use their overwhelming regional military power to beat up on a small neighbor. And I don't think that's actually a very good place from which to proceed on an argument that Russia ought to be considered a responsible member of the international system.

So I think we'll review that in the NAC. I don't expect that we need, at this point, to do much more than reaffirm the Bucharest understandings.

Q And when you say "verify," would there be some kind of a NATO verification protocol, or just --

SECRETARY RICE: No, but we can get -- we'll get it, we'll get reports from -- the OSCE will have the monitoring function; I think that's pretty clear. It could be others as well -- the EU, the U.N. It's really not an appropriate function for NATO.

Q Would Russia agree to the OSCE monitoring?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we will see. Russia says that there need to be international monitors. The OSCE is currently the monitoring organization. It's just that there are very few monitors. Foreign Minister Stubb says that the number of those monitors can be increased dramatically very quickly.

Q By a hundred, right?

SECRETARY RICE: To at least a hundred, that's right. We are, with others, working on logistics for them, working on getting mobility equipment for them to be able to do their mission.

The question of mandate came up because the OSCE monitors under the current mandate would not go outside of the zone of conflict. But the Georgians have told me that they would, by permission, allow the OSCE monitors into Georgia, so there's no need for a change of mandate. So if Russia decides to block this, then I think that will just further reveal their intentions.

We'll consider the issues about how to move forward on the Bucharest declaration in a course of time. We don't need to consider that right now. We do need to reaffirm the Bucharest declaration, which talked about the transatlantic horizon for both Georgia and Ukraine, and said that both would be members eventually.

Thank you.

END 9:27 A.M. CDT