Georgian president calls for new Yalta conference
AP – May 11, 2005 


Associated Press Writer

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili yesterday called for a new Yalta conference, a voluntary association of new European democracies whose goal would be to extend the rule of liberty throughout the Black Sea region and beyond.

In an editorial column in The Washington Post, Saakashvili said the diplomatic agreement reached at Yalta after World War II by the United States, Britain and Russia “relegated millions of people to a ruthless tyranny.”

He said the division of Europe created at Yalta and the Iron Curtain that marked its boundary were history, with much of the territory allocated to Russian leader Josef Stalin now democratic nations.

“After recent discussions with Presidents Traian Basescu of Romania and Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine,” Saakashvili said, “I believe it is time for a new Yalta Conference” with three main goals.

He said nations must work together to consolidate democracy in the region, and said Georgia achieved it only 18 months ago.

But Saakashvili said two regions of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, “remain untouched by the freedom the rest of Georgia enjoys. We can and must resolve these disputes to better the lives of Georgians.” He also said other nations in the region must work towards democracy.

“Moldova, like Georgia, faces a separatist region that maintains itself with cast-off Soviet weaponry and the profits from an illicit economy based on trafficking in weapons, drugs and women,” Saakashvili said. “These are the last razor-sharp splinters of the Soviet empire.”

Saakashvili said the world can do more to aid the people of Belarus in their quest for freedom.

A new Yalta conference should seek to expand the frontiers of freedom far beyond the Black Sea, he said, mentioning Cuba, Zimbabwe and Burma.

Saakashvili’s comments came as President George W. Bush had started a 24-hour visit to the former Soviet country.

President Bush, greeted by cheering crowds and giant billboards bearing his image, praised the determination of Georgians to be free and held up this former Soviet republic as an inspiration for other young, struggling democracies.

“I appreciate the reforms you’ve put in place here. Georgia has come a long way very quickly,” Bush said during a news conference with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who led the Rose Revolution in 2003 that overthrew a corrupt government and became a model for other uprisings that have shaken the Kremlin.

The two leaders spoke in the Parliament House about two blocks from Freedom Square where tens of thousands of people were gathering for a speech by Bush.

“No event in the history of this country has ever assembled anything close to these numbers,” said Saakashvili, who estimated the crowd at 150,000. “It shows the importance of this visit.”

Bush declined to support the bid of two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, to gain independence from Georgia, instead lending his backing to Saakashvili’s plan to give the areas some autonomy but keep them within the country. “He wants the country to remain intact,” Bush said.

In a gesture to Moscow, Bush urged Saakashvili to use peaceful means to settle the dispute and said he’d be willing to make a phone call or two to help resolve the conflict if his assistance is requested.

The president said he talked in Moscow earlier this week with President     Vladimir Putin about Georgia’s demand for the closure of two Russian bases in this country. The long-simmering dispute over the bases has strained relations between Georgia and its giant neighbor.

Bush and his wife, Laura, received an extraordinary welcome Monday night in the Georgian capital. The motorcade route was filled with cheering Georgians. Hundreds of performers in colorful costumes whirled, leapt, stomped and danced through traditional routines staged in a narrow, cobblestone street in Tbilisi’s Old Town section.