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UN chief talks about hot issues, but not Cold War

Published on 12/09/2008

12 September 2008

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon talked about hot global issues from Georgia and the Mideast to terrorism and poverty on Thursday but there was one subject he wouldn’t touch – the possibility of a new Cold War between Russia and the United States.

After being pressed several times about the escalating US-Russian rhetoric over Georgia at the UN Security Council and elsewhere, Ban finally told a news conference: "As secretary-general, and as one of the citizens of the world, I would like to really rule out any possibility of returning to the era of the Cold War."

"I do not want to repeat the term Cold War myself," he said. "That is why I have avoided it. That is very firm, as far as I’m concerned."

Ban said "harsh rhetoric" like the Security Council exchanges between US and Russian diplomats over the Georgia conflict "is not always desirable in resolving a difference of opinions."

"That is why I have always tried to highly value dialogue, and sometimes, if necessary, very quiet diplomacy," he said.

Ban also stressed that "it would be too hasty to characterise the current situation we are seeing (over Georgia) as going back to a so-called Cold War."

Russia drew harsh criticism from the US and Europe for recognising two separatist Georgian territories as independent states following a short but devastating war that left Russian troops in control of a key Georgian Black Sea port and other locations deep inside Georgia.

The conflict followed an escalation of incidents over many months by pro-Russian separatists from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the Russian and Georgian military, and was sparked by Georgia’s attempt to use force to retake control of South Ossetia.

The US and Britain have talked tough, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warning Moscow that the West will not sit by idly like it did during the Cold War invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Russia has been equally tough, insisting it will keep peacekeepers in Georgia.

Ban said Thursday the UN is considering setting up peacekeeping missions in Georgia’s separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and is also negotiating on sending a fact-finding mission to Georgia.

Under the six-point agreement between Russia and the European Union that halted the fighting, he said, the "UN has a role to play" and it is currently involved in setting up international talks on peace and security in the region. The talks will be held in Geneva on 15 October.

"All conflict issues must be resolved through dialogue, through a harmonious way," Ban stressed.

[AP / Expatica]