Russia cannot join WTO without Georgian consent: minister

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Russia cannot join the World Trade Organisation without Georgia's consent, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said as talks between the ex-Soviet foes resumed on Thursday.

Georgian and Russian officials are holding negotiations on the issue in Switzerland, with Tbilisi continuing to insist that it could use its right as a WTO member to veto Moscow's entry to the global trade body.

Vashadze told journalists in Tbilisi that a suggestion by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday that Moscow could potentially join the WTO without Georgian agreement was "pure blackmail and bluff".

Tbilisi is demanding the right to monitor border crossings in the Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were recognised as independent states by Moscow after the Georgia-Russia war in August 2008 but are regarded by Georgia as parts of its sovereign territory.

Vashadze said that Tbilisi was not trying to block Moscow's WTO entry but to negotiate a way out of the "stupid situation which Russia created in August 2008".

A US official visiting Tbilisi on Wednesday said that Washington was hoping for an agreement but understood the concerns expressed by Georgia, which is one of the White House's most loyal allies in the former Soviet Union.

"Georgia has legitimate trade concerns that need to be addressed," US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tina Kaidanow told journalists.

Georgia has been keen to use one of its few levers of international influence amid its continuing disputes with Russia, and its stance has threatened to derail Moscow's efforts to finally become a member of the global trade body.

Russia, which opened negotiations to join in 1993, is the largest economy to remain outside the WTO.

Talks between the two countries were set to continue in Switzerland on Friday.

© 2011 AFP

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