New State Minister Speaks on Conflict Resolution Issues

Q&A with Temur Iakobashvili

Temur Iakobashvili, a newly appointed State Minister for Reintegration (formerly for Conflict Resolution Issues) said in an interview with Civil.Ge on February 3 that Russia can play a positive role in resolving conflicts in Georgia. “Saying that we should kick Russians out is not quite correct,” he said. Iakobashvili also said that there should be no “tabooed issues” on negotiating agenda with the Abkhaz side and restoring railway, as well as “full or partial” lifting of economic embargo should become part of negotiations. In respect of South Ossetia he said the Tbilisi-backed provisional administration, led by Dimitri Sanakoev, has “a huge potential to play a positive role.”
Q.: What do you think about the current negotiating formats both in respect of the South Ossetian and Abkhaz conflicts?

A.: The fact is that today the negotiating process has come to a deadlock. We are oriented to the results. It seems that the current negotiating formats have either exhausted themselves or have not worked at all.

Hence, we should think on how to replace idle formats with new ones, while leaving behind those, which have already exhausted themselves. If there is something in these formats that can be used, we should use them and go forward.

At this stage I would refrain from going into details regarding the formats, because I want to thoroughly familiarize with these issues.

Today Georgia has a new priority and this priority is United Georgia without Poverty. Hence, in my opinion, our top priority will be integration. We will have relations with the people to ensure that the population, and not politicians, feels better.

Q.: Is the change of the current peacekeeping and negotiating formats still on the Tbilisi’s agenda?

A.: It certainly is on the agenda.

Realities have changed. Georgia is not the same as it was before, either from political or other points of view. And we cannot drag the process endlessly. Process in itself does not matter, the result matters for us.

The process in itself, which may brings no results or does not benefit the people – be they internally displaced persons, Ossetians or Abkhazians leaving there – can have sense only for the international organizations, but not for us and not for Abkhazians or Ossetians.

Q.: Recently you have said that you do not support the Russian peacekeepers “to pack their suitcases and to go away” – something which was unusual for the Tbilisi’s rhetoric?

A.: I think that the Russians can certainly play a positive role. Saying that we should kick Russians out is not quite correct.

Russia should play a positive role, it should be a party in the conflict resolution process, in the negotiations; it, however, should not be the only party, it should not be the only guarantor, because not only our bitter experience, but the international experience also tells us that it is much better to have several [international guarantors] rather than to have only one.

Still I think that it is quite possible to reach an agreement with Russia in order to move the process forward.

Q.: Tbilisi has long been calling for internationalization of the peace process; the western powers, however, seem to be reluctant to have any direct role in the process.

A.: The West shows enthusiasm regarding this issue; but timing, scale and form matters for [the west]. When I talk about new realities, I also mean the fact that the Abkhaz conflict, has appeared in the European neighborhood after Romania and Bulgaria joined EU.

So EU can not stand aside from the developments [related with the Abkhaz conflict]. Hence, the European Union will revise its approaches towards these issues and I think that we can progress in this direction.

But we of course should have no illusion that EU will get involved in the process tomorrow. But there is a potential which we should definitely use.

I think it is not even expedient at this stage to talk with EU about possible deployment of their peacekeepers, until it settles down the situation in the Balkans. We should not take initiatives, which will only create discomfort to EU. We should weigh the possibilities correctly through diplomatic negotiations and only afterwards we should make statements.

It is unserious if we keep saying that we should deploy the EU peacekeepers or replace Russians. We should not replace the Russians, but we should deploy others along with Russians. But it will be much better option if there will be only us and Abkhazians.

Q.: Have you already tried to reach out to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sides?

A.: We should definitely resume a direct dialogue. We are ready to talk to each Ossetian, each Abkhazian, regardless of their status.

We will talk not only to the government in Sokhumi, but we will also talk to Abkhazians living in Russia, Turkey or other countries, who care for the fate of the Abkhaz nation. I think that it is an affair of the Georgian state to save the Abkhazians, as an ethnos and a nation.

I have not made any attempts to reach out to them yet, because I think that untimely attempts are bad. I should get through the details and only afterwards such attempts will be made.

Q.: Renaming of the State Ministry for Conflict Resolution Issues into the State Ministry for Reintegration has triggered both Sokhumi’s and Tskhinvali’s anger.

A.: I think that they are exercising caution, probably justified caution, because we have been offering them various things for already 15 years and we have not brought anything to the end. Just therefore they are cautious and it is not a surprise for me. It is not important what will be the name of this ministry. Most important is what it will do.

Q.: Sokhumi says they will not resume dialogue with Tbilisi, until the pre-summer 2006 status quo is not restored in the Kodori Gorge…

A.: This story about deadlocked negotiations because of Kodori, is already the past; because as far as I know, numerous monitoring missions, who visited the gorge, have confirmed that Georgia does nothing wrong there.

Constant pushing of this issue [by Sokhumi] is a part of tactics. I do not thing it is an obstacle to [resuming negotiating process].

I think time has come to say no to tabooed issues. We should start talks about everything, including about the railway, about full or partial lifting of economic sanctions.

This is a process of negotiations. Simply, we should know that we need to go forward; we should not talk only for the sake of talking.

Our goal is that instead of touring Geneva [venue of meetings of the UN Secretary General’s Group of Friends on Georgia, also attended by the Georgian and Abkhaz negotiators], Moscow, Sochi and other places, we should provide relief to internally displaced persons; concrete steps should be taken towards restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity; the Abkhazians and Ossetians, living on the other side, should feel that we are not enemies and we care for their lives. Georgia without poverty means Abkhazia without poverty and Ossetia without poverty, along with Kartli, Kakheti and other regions of Georgia.

Q.: Sokhumi, Tskhinvali and Moscow have been insisting on Tbilisi to sign a treaty on non-use of force. In which case may Tbilisi sign it?

A.: We are ready to talk about everything, but nobody should have an illusion that the Georgian side will sign something if the wording is unacceptable for us.

If we talk about non-resumption of hostilities, we should also talk about what is happening concurrently. Only those agreements will be signed, which will help us to move forward.

If the Abkhaz or Ossetian sides deem this type of agreement necessary, we are ready to negotiate, but only if these talks are followed by other things as well.

Q.: What other things should follow?

A.: Return of internally displaced persons.

We are open for a dialogue. There are no taboos for us, we can discuss everything, including cease-fire, rehabilitation, [lifting of economic] embargo, joint economic activities, police activities, culture. Political status will be one of the issues of negotiations as well.

Many nations have fought with each other in the past, but they have reconciled and now they have friendly relations. I think that bad things have happened in our family as well, but it is senseless to drag this conflict now.

Q.: Can you name some of the major mistakes which have been made in recent years in respect of conflict resolution?

A.: I do not know what kind of mistakes have been made. I will try to be result-oriented.

Q.: It is about one year since Tbilisi has introduced a new player in the South Ossetian conflict resolution process – Dimitri Sanakoev and its provisional South Ossetian administration. How effective this move was and will you have any new initiatives in this regard?

A.: I met with Sanakoev yesterday [on February 2]. I think he has a huge potential to play a positive role in the rapprochement of the Georgian and Ossetian people.

We should not reject what we have already launched; we launched this process well and we should continue it well.

Because of recent political developments in Georgia a pause was observed in this direction, but we should resume close relations with Sanakoev and we should assist this man and his team in doing his job.

I promise that the state commission – one of the issues of this commission is to discuss political status [of South Ossetia] – will resume its activities. This is a right mechanism and we should bring its activities to a logical end. The law on restitution and putting this law into force will be our priority as well.

Q.: The UN Secretary General’s latest report on Abkhazia raises the problem of inaccurate media reports. What can you say about the coverage of current developments in the conflict zones?

A.: Very often journalists are blamed for disseminating misinformation. I think it is not correct to blame journalists for something. They report information which they can gather. This is politicians’ problem, if they deliver incorrect information. The problem is that there is no environment, which will enable a reporter to gather information.

Our goal will be to create an environment, wherein it will be possible to gather information, wherein our journalists, as well as Abkhazian and Ossetian journalists will have an opportunity to move freely in the conflict zones and to ensure unbiased coverage from the ground. 

Q.: Personally for you was this, as the UN’s recent report puts it, “flow of inaccurate media reports” a big issue, something that was very noticeable for you?  

A.: I should be naive to be surprised about this, because there has been so much misinformation recently in the Georgian media and not only about Abkhazia.

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