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Europe

Sarkozy Seeks Russian Troop Pullout From Georgia

French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads an EU delegation to Moscow Monday to raise pressure on Russia to comply with a month-old peace deal and withdraw troops from Georgia.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy is expected to deliver a tough message to President Medvedev

French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads to Moscow on Monday, Sept 8 to meet with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev in a bid to ratchet up international pressure on Russia and bolster a fragile peace deal.

France holds the rotating presidency of the European Union and it was Sarkozy who brokered the August 12 accord that officially brought an end to Russia and Georgia's five-day war over South Ossetia.

This time, Sarkozy, accompanied by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, is expected to tell Moscow to honor its pledeges to withdraw its troops from Georgia or face an escalation of its stand-off with the West.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sit around a small table in front of a fireplace.

Sarkozy met with Medvedev back in August to discuss the ceasefire

In his pocket Sarkozy carries a firm mandate from the EU, which was agreed upon by every member of the 27-nation bloc at an emergency summit held on September 1.

The mandate gives EU negotiators full authority to settle the six-point ceasefire agreement. Sarkozy is hoping to make headway on three of those points in the meeting with Medvedev.

Three points

Armed Russian soldiers sit leaning against a barracade in Georgia.

Russia claims it has withdrawn all troops from Georgia in accordance with the ceasefire agreement

First is the deployment of an EU observer mission in Georgia. There is already a UN mission in Abkhazia and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is trying to set up observers in and around South Ossetia, the spark for the start of the fighting.

A spokesman for the French presidency told news agency AFP that Sarkozy also wants "precise dates, mechanisms and commitments" for a Russian military withdrawal from Georgian territory outside of the breakaway regions.

Russia claims it has withdrawn from Georgia in line with the ceasefire accord, but France believes there are about 1,000 troops in Georgia around South Ossetia and Abkhazia, officials said.

Sarkozy's third priority is to obtain a date for international talks on the future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Russia has recognized as independent states, angering the West. So far Russia has been immune to international pressure over the war with Georgia, and it showed little concern after the EU summit decided to suspend talks with Moscow on a new partnership accord.

Hope for progress

German Chancellor Angela Merkel getting out of a car.

The German chancellor is optimistic about the trip

Chancellor Angela Merkel told a German radio station she is optimistic that Sarkozy will make progress during his discussions with Medvedev. Merkel said she was heartened by Russia’s response to the EU agreement last week which avoided imposing sanctions on Moscow.

“I see grounds for hope, as the (Russian) prime minister and the president welcomed the EU's decisions," Merkel added.

In the interview she also reiterated her view that Russia had reacted disproportionately to Georgia's actions in South Ossetia and that Russia's recognition as independent states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia did not comply with international law.

"That will be fodder for future meetings but it doesn't mean we cannot continue to work together in other areas," she said. "We in the EU want to further contacts (with Russia). But it cannot be that the six-point plan which we have developed together is not fulfilled."

German minister calls for international probe

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called on the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to open an investigation into the conflict.

In an interview with the German daily Hannoverschen Allgemeinen Zeitung last week, Steinmeier said both Russia and Georgia needed to be open to an independent investigation.

"I see no lack of institutions, for example in the framework of the UN or the OSCE that could run the probe, he said. "But until now, there has above all been unwillingness on both sides to take part in such an investigation," Steinmeier said.

Steinmeier added that he believes it is in the best interest of both sides that they cooperate with any investigation. He warned however, that determining who was responsible isn’t something that can happen overnight.

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