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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN TALKS BEGIN IN MOSCOW

RIA Novosti

MOSCOW, March 23 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow hopes that dialog with Tbilisi will yield serious progress regarding the presence of the Russian military bases in Georgia, said Russian Ambassador at Large Igor Savolsky, opening the Russian-Georgian talks here Wednesday.

"I very much hope that we will make serious progress in this direction," he said.

According to Savolsky, during the three-day talks Russian and Georgian diplomats will also discuss signing a new agreement, visa problems and delimiting the border between the two countries.

Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze said he also hoped that the sides would come to an agreement regarding the long-discussed issues.

Working groups have been set up in accordance with the agreements reached during the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Tbilisi February 18.

An agreement was reached "to intensify the negotiations on the timeframe of the withdrawal of the Russian bases from the territory of Georgia," Lavrov said during the visit. "There are reasons to believe that agreements on a big treaty could be reached rather quickly."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Tuesday that withdrawal of the bases would cost $250-300 million.

Ivanov said the Defense Ministry would start financing the withdrawal "only after an appropriate agreement is signed and comes into force. And the time of its signing will have to be determined at the negotiations."

"Our position on this score has not changed," he said. "There is one condition for the withdrawal of our servicemen. We will not repeat the mistake made when we left Germany. First, we will build premises for the servicemen to live in and the [necessary] infrastructure for a normal existence, including a social infrastructure," he said.



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