UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — Sponsors of a UN Security Council resolution to formalize the ceasefire deal between Russia and Georgia pushed for a vote by week's end, but Moscow balked at inserting any reference to Georgia's territorial integrity.
"Yes ideally, we would like a vote this weekend," a Western diplomat close to the bargaining involving European, US and Russian diplomats told AFP Friday.
"But we'll take as long as it takes. We are not going to push for a vote if we know that the Russians will veto the text -- which does not mean we have to give in to all their demands... There has to be hard bargaining," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity."
Other diplomats said the 15-member Council was expected to hold new consultations Sunday on a new draft meant to formalize the French-brokered agreement reached by Moscow and Tbilisi to end fighting for control of the breakaway Georgian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
And UN chief Ban Ki-moon was to interrupt his current two-week vacation Saturday to hold private talks here with the ambassadors of the United States, Russia and Georgia, according to a UN official.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ban would speak to reporters after his meetings with the three envoys.
This week, Ban discussed the issue by phone with Georgia's pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili but was unable to reach Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, according to Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman.
Thursday, Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin spoke optimistically about early approval of the new draft by the Council.
But diplomats said the Russians were demanding that there be no reference to respect of Georgia's territorial integrity, a demand which could prove a "dealbreaker," according to one source.
Earlier Friday, Georgia's pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili announced he had signed the EU-brokered ceasefire during a visit to Tbilisi by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
And he insisted that Tbilisi would never agree to surrender Abkhazia or South Ossetia, currently outside his government's control.
Rice for her part said the United States and European Union had agreed to "recognise the territorial integrity of Georgia and recognise that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are within the internationally recognized boundaries of Georgia."
She added that Washington favored the deployment of a "neutral" international peacekeeping force in Georgia.
Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told his French counterpart Friday that his country would sign the ceasefire and scrupulously respect all agreements, including a troop withdrawal, officials said in Paris.
Despite that pledge, Russian armored vehicles and tanks remained deep inside Georgian territory, some even pressing further towards the capital Tbilisi.
In Washington, US President George W. Bush complained of Moscow's "bullying" and urged Russia to honor its pledge to withdraw its troops. Bush was preparing Saturday to meet with Rice and other top advisers to determine Washington's next steps in the crisis.
The peace plan includes a commitment not to resort to force, to end hostilities definitively and to provide free access for humanitarian aid.
Georgian military forces are also to withdraw to their usual bases while Russian military forces are to pull back to the lines held prior to the outbreak of hostilities.
Pending an international mechanism, Russian peacekeeping forces will implement additional security measures.
Finally, international talks are to open on the security and stability arrangements in Moscow-backed South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russian troops entered Georgia in response to a Georgian offensive on August 7 to retake South Ossetia, which achieved de facto independence from Tbilisi in the 1990s during the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Moscow, which strongly supports South Ossetia and Abkhazia, has given Russian passports to most people in the two territories.
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