09/02/2008 08:17

Turkey has threatened to retaliate against new Russian import controls
that are seen as an attempt to punish Turkey for allowing U.S. warships
carrying aid to Georgia to pass through the Turkish straits, that
connect the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.

The extra import checks for Turkish goods have resulted in hundreds
of Turkish trucks being held up at Russian border posts.

Turkey's trade minister has said Turkey would impose more stringent
trade restrictions on Russian goods, but Cemil Cicek, the deputy
prime minister, told reporters Monday that Turkey favored resolving
the issue through dialogue. Russia is Turkey's top trading partner
and supplier of two-thirds of its natural gas.

Lavrov and Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan were also to discuss
a Turkish plan for a regional group to stabilize the Caucasus region
following the war between Russia and Georgia.

Turkey tried to mediate a peaceful solution to the Russia-Georgia
conflict, but the proposal did not receive immediate backing from
Georgia. Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said last week
Georgia would consider joining such a group only after Russian forces
leave her country.

The Turkish-proposed group would include Turkey and four nearby
Caucasus nations: Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Hours before Lavrov's arrival in Istanbul, another U.S. naval
ship passed through the Turkish straits to reach the Black Sea,
the private Dogan news agency reported. There was no information on
its destination.

Last month, two U.S. ships laden with humanitarian aid for Georgia
passed through the Turkish straits. One of them, the guided-missile
destroyer USS McFaul, sailed back through the straits toward the
Mediterranean late Monday, the Anatolia news agency reported.

On Monday, Russia suggested that U.S. ships that took humanitarian
aid to Georgia's Black Sea coast could also have delivered weapons.

Turkey, a NATO member and close US ally, has helped train and equip
Georgia's military, which lost a brief war with Russia last month
over the separatist region of South Ossetia.