Statement of Senator Obama on Tensions in the Caucasus Region Between Georgia and Russia.

Chicago, IL — “Over the last several weeks, Russia and Georgia have been engaged in a steadily more dangerous confrontation over two secessionist regions of Georgia — South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Although these territories are located within Georgia’s internationally-recognized borders, the Russian government seems determined to challenge Georgia’s territorial integrity in both places. Developments took an especially provocative turn several days ago when four Russian warplanes violated Georgian airspace close to the Georgian capital for forty minutes.

All parties — Russia first and foremost — must now reduce tensions, avoid the risks of war, and reengage in peaceful negotiations.

As I stated in April of this year, I am committed to upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. This commitment has long been a fundamental building block of U.S. policy, and it will not change under an Obama Administration. I also affirm Georgia’s right to pursue NATO membership. This aspiration in no way threatens the legitimate defense interests of Georgia’s neighbors.

Only a political settlement can resolve the conflicts over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia needs to roll back the aggressive actions it has taken in the last three months. The Georgian government must resist the temptation to be drawn into a military conflict. All parties must make clear that they are committed to a diplomatic settlement and will not seek to resolve this dispute by force.

The international community must become more active in trying to defuse this confrontation. The fact that Russia has become a party to the conflict means that Russia is not qualified to play the role of a mediator. The visit to Georgia by German Foreign Minister Steinmeier this week was a positive, important step towards establishing a larger role for the European Union. The Euro-Atlantic community must speak with one voice in helping to promote peace in this volatile region. As part of the de-escalation process, a multilateral peacekeeping force must eventually replace the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed in Abkhazia.”

Senate Passes NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007

The U.S. Senate approved S.494, U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar’s bill that endorses further enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by voice vote last night. The “NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007” would facilitate the timely admission of Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Macedonia, and Ukraine to NATO.

The House passed a similar version of the bill on March 6; a technical difference must be resolved between the bills before it can become law.

“The goal of this bill is to reaffirm United States support for continued enlargement of NATO to democracies that are able and willing to meet the responsibilities of membership. In particular, the legislation calls for the timely admission of Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Macedonia, and Ukraine to NATO and authorizes security assistance for these countries in Fiscal Year 2008. Each of these countries has clearly stated its desire to join NATO and is working hard to meet the specified requirements for membership,” Lugar said.

“I believe that eventual NATO membership for these five countries would be a success for Europe, NATO, and the United States by continuing to extend the zone of peace and security. Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia have been making progress on reforms through their participation in the NATO Membership Action Plan since 2002. Unfortunately, Georgia and Ukraine have not yet been granted a Membership Action Plan but nevertheless have made remarkable progress. This legislation will provide important incentives and assistance to the countries to continue the implementation of democratic, defense, and economic reforms.

“Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has been evolving to meet the new security needs of the 21st century. In this era, the threats to NATO members are transnational and far from its geographic borders. There is strong support among members for NATO’s operation in Afghanistan, and for its training mission in Iraq. NATO’s viability as an effective defense and security alliance depends on flexible, creative leadership, as well as the willingness of members to improve capabilities and address common threats,” Lugar said.