RUSSIA DENIES PUNISHING TURKEY OVER GEORGIA

USA Today
Sept 2 2008

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) -- Russia's foreign minister insisted Tuesday
that strict new import measures were not aimed at punishing NATO-member
Turkey for allowing U.S. warships to steam through its waters to
deliver aid to Georgia.

Sergey Lavrov said Turkey was not being "singled out" for stringent
checks at border checkpoints. Turkish officials say hundreds of trucks
taking exports to Russia have been held up since Russian authorities
began closely scrutinizing consignments about a month ago.

"This is not an action directed against Turkey. Turkey is not being
singled out," said Lavrov at a joint news conference here with his
Turkish counterpart, Ali Babacan. "There can be no politics involved
in trade."

Two U.S. ships laden with humanitarian aid for Georgia last month
passed through the Turkish straits, connecting the Mediterranean to
the Black Sea.

One of them, the guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul, sailed back
through the straits toward the Mediterranean late Monday, the Anatolia
news agency reported.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Russia | Georgia | Mediterranean | Black
Sea | South Ossetia | Azerbaijan | Anatolia | Armenia | Caucasus |
Lavrov | USS McFaul Russia suggested Monday 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.

The talks between Lavrov and Babacan came after Turkey suggested
it would retaliate with its own stricter trade rules but drew back
from the threat Monday, saying it wanted to resolve the dispute
through talks. Russia is Turkey's top trading partner and supplier
of two-thirds of its natural gas.

Lavrov said the stricter border controls were imposed because
unspecified countries breached customs regulations. He said the two
countries were trying to solve the dispute.

Lavrov also Tuesday backed plans for a group of regional nations to
try to overcome the Georgia crisis and stabilize the Caucasus region.

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

"The countries of the region should solve their own problems. Other
countries should be supportive, but not impose their own
prescriptions," Lavrov said.

Georgia said it would only join the group after Russian forces
completely pulled out of the country after last month's war.

"Turkey will continue its efforts in solving problems through peaceful
means and dialogue, under any condition," Babacan said.