German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will discuss a peace plan for solving one of the former Soviet Union's most dangerous and intractable conflicts with Georgian leaders on Thursday, diplomats said.
Western governments worry that rising tension between Georgia and former Soviet master Russia over the impoverished Black Sea territory of Abkhazia could spiral into war.
They want Moscow and Tbilisi to sign up to a negotiated settlement for Abkhazia, which broke away from Georgia after a war and declared independence in 1992. No country has recognised it, though Russia has provided financial support and has stationed around 3,000 peacekeepers there.
Steinmeier, acting as coordinator for a five-power group trying to settle the problem, will meet Georgian Foreign Minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili and President Mikheil Saakashvili on Thursday.
On Friday he flies to Abkhazia to see separatist leader and self-styled president Sergei Bagapsh and continues to Moscow, where he will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Steinmeier is taking with him a German plan for settling the Abkhaz problem in three stages, diplomats said.
The first step involves undertakings by all sides not to use force and the second foresees joint projects between Abkhazia and Georgia, they added.
The final phase would see Abkhazia becoming an autonomous region within Georgia.
The five powers acting under the umbrella of the United Nations Secretary-General -- Germany, Britain, France, the United States and Russia -- met in Berlin at the end of June and reached a "basic understanding" on Steinmeier's plan, the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.
Russia had shown "moderate interest" in the plan, one Moscow-based diplomat said, but Georgia had so far been unwilling to commit to a resolution not to use force in the conflict because it wanted concessions from Russia first.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Lavrov and Steinmeier had discussed Abkhazia by telephone on Tuesday.
"The Russian side underlined that for a de-escalation of the situation in the conflict zone, it is necessary to achieve an acceptance by the parties of the need for the non-use of force and the withdrawal from the upper part of the Kodori Gorge by Georgian armed forces," the ministry said in a statement.
Georgian troops pushed into the upper Kodori in 2006, violating a 1994 ceasefire agreement. It is the only part of Abkhazia under nominal Georgian government control.
Further complicating the search for a solution, diplomats in Moscow said the status quo in Abkhazia suits Russia very well.
"They like Abkhazia being a thorn in the side of the Georgian leadership but they don't want to be drawn into recognising Abkhazia because that would create uncomfortable precedents for separatist regions inside Russia," one diplomat said.
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