Hillary on eastern Europe, Caucasus trip

Hillary Clinton is on a mission to allay the concerns of regional allies.

Washington: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to eastern Europe and the troubled Caucasus region on Thursday on a mission to allay the concerns of regional allies over newly invigorated US-Russian ties.

A top item on Hillary’s agenda will be to explain warmer relations between Washington and Moscow to countries in the region which once chafed under Soviet control.

US-Russian ties were strengthened last week during President Dmitry Medvedev`s visit to the United States.

The ties appear not to have been damaged by revelations about the Cold War-style Russian spy ring operating until this week in the United States.

President Barack Obama has been less aggressive than his predecessor, George W Bush, in pursuing two major irritants for Moscow: missile defence plans in eastern Europe, and the expansion of NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia, on Russia`s borders.

Phil Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said that US allies in the region should not worry about stronger US-Russian ties.

"We don`t think that anybody should have any concerns," said Gordon. "To the extent that anyone has any concern about our Russia policy, we`re happy to discuss it with them."

Washington wants to "go beyond the notion" that central European countries "need to choose whether they`re going to be pro-Russian or pro-American," Gordon said.

Hillary was also set to help seek a resolution to the fighting in the Armenian-backed breakaway region of Nagorny-Karabakh, where an estimated 30,000 people have reportedly been killed in recent fighting.

Tensions have risen there amid stalled talks over the status of the region, after ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control from Baku in a war in the early 1990s.

Hillary is scheduled to arrive on Friday in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, and she wraps up her trip Monday in Tbilisi, with stops in Krakow, Baku and Yerevan.

In Kiev, Hillary is to open the US-Ukrainian Strategic Partnership Commission, which provides for increased cooperation on a range of issues including energy and trade, security and defence, and cultural exchanges.

She will meet with President Viktor Yanukovych and Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, as well as members of non-governmental groups and independent media leaders, said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.

Hillary will then head to Krakow for celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Community of Democracies, which US secretary of state Madeleine Albright and her counterpart Bronislaw Geremek initiated in 2000.

She also will hold talks with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

Her travels will then take her to Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia for meetings with government officials and civil society leaders to discuss bilateral issues, as well as issues related to regional peace and stability.

Gordon said Hillary remains "dissatisfied" with relations following the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, which Washington supported.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili this week said Tbilisi was ready for talks with Russia on normalizing ties which were severed after the conflict.

Bureau Report

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