US, Russian ambassadors spar at UN over Georgia
By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 9 minutes ago
UNITED NATIONS - U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad exchanged sharp remarks with the Russian ambassador on Sunday, accusing Moscow of resisting attempts to make peace with Georgia after days of fighting have left hundreds of civilians dead.
Khalilzad pointedly asked Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin in the U.N. Security Council session whether Russia's aim was to "change the leadership in Georgia" — a charge Churkin did not directly address but seemed to deny.
"We believe the situation has gotten a lot worse in the last 24 hours," Khalilzad told reporters after the public debate during the council session had ended. "There is a danger here that Russia is over-reaching" by seeking regime change in Georgia.
"Regime change is purely an American invention," Churkin replied, speaking to reporters. "He (Khalilzad) raised the issue and I think I responded quite adequately to it."
Churkin also accused the U.N. secretary-general's office of taking Georgia's side. A spokesman for Ban Ki-moon denied the claim; Ban's office had said late Saturday night he was "alarmed by the escalation of hostilities in Georgia."
Much of the session, which began Sunday morning with private talks and a public session, became a tense standoff between major powers Russia and the U.S.
It was the Security Council's fourth meeting in as many days. Council members broke off their three-hour meeting Sunday with plans to return either later in the day or Monday.
Many of the council members take sides with Georgia, which is not a council member, but China and South Africa voiced some support for Russia during Sunday's private talks, U.N. officials said. Georgia's ambassador could only join the council's open meetings, not its private talks, and then again only by invitation.
The conflict began when U.S.-allied Georgia began an offensive to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia overnight Friday. Georgia launched heavy rocket and artillery fire and air strikes that pounded the provincial capital of Tskhinvali.
In response, Russia launched overwhelming artillery shelling and air attacks on Georgian troops. On Sunday, Russian jets targeted an aircraft-making plant near the airport on the outskirts of Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet republic.
Georgia borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia and was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia have run their own affairs without international recognition since fighting to split from Georgia in the early 1990s.
Both separatist provinces have close ties with Moscow, while Georgia has deeply angered Russia by wanting to join NATO.
Georgia's ambassador, Irakli Alasania, said it was "Russia's intention to erase Georgian statehood, to exterminate Georgian people." Churkin also accused Georgia of waging "genocide" against South Ossetians.
He said Russia will only act in self-defense. "Let's state clearly that we are ready to put an end to the war, that we will withdraw from South Ossetia, that we will sign an agreement on non-use of force," Churkin proposed
However, diplomats said major fighting continued in many areas.
The U.S. was preparing a draft resolution that would have the council call for an immediate cease-fire and condemnation of Russia. France also had a draft text in the works. The U.S. and Europeans planned to huddle among themselves later Sunday.
Russia is one of five nations with veto power on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council. The others are Britain, China, France and the U.S.