U.S. Reverses on Meeting Aid Worker

APSouth Ossetian activist Lira Tskhovrebova talking to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington on Tuesday.
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. State Department was planning a meeting with a foreign activist even after disclosure of her conversations with a high-ranking security official in the Russian-backed breakaway South Ossetia region.

The decision announced Tuesday was a reversal after the department canceled a meeting that had been scheduled last week.

The South Ossetian activist, Lira Tskhovrebova, came to the United States to draw American attention to the brief war in August between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway region.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood confirmed the meeting with Tskhovrebova and others. But he did not say when it would occur nor which U.S. officials would participate. Last week, a deputy assistant secretary of state, Matthew Bryza, canceled a meeting between his staff and Tskhovrebova, saying he doubted her independence.

Tskhovrebova has acknowledged to The Associated Press that she routinely speaks and meets with Vasily Guliyev, whom Georgia identified as deputy director for counterintelligence for the South Ossetian security agency still known by the Soviet-era acronym KGB.

Georgian intelligence gave the AP secretly recorded conversations in which Tskhovrebova appears to discuss assignments, money and information with Guliyev. Tskhovrebova has denied working for the South Ossetian KGB and maintains that the recordings reflect innocent conversations with a family friend. "He had never demanded any kind of information from me," she told a news conference Tuesday.

In a statement Monday, she called Georgia's accusations "vicious, false and predictable."

She said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili routinely calls his opponents spies. "It is a charge easily made and impossible to disprove," she said.

Reached by telephone in Tblisi, Bryza said Tuesday that he initially objected to the meeting with her but added: "We are not trying to blackball anyone here."

"I was worried about an exclusive meeting that confers some sort of special stature," Bryza said after a meeting with Saakashvili. "My concern was always that we not do something exclusive with someone who may be operating in a way that makes her seem not like a typical [nongovernmental organization]."

Mark Saylor, Tskhovrebova's public relations representative, said at Tuesday's news conference that the original meeting was scheduled with the full delegation. "I just wonder what changed," Tskhovrebova said.

She has rejected Georgian charges that she is a spy, saying contact with security services is routine in her region.

Tskhovrebova and the delegation have been in Washington lobbying to draw U.S. attention to alleged atrocities by Georgian troops against civilians in the breakaway region during the war.

Tskhovrebova has met with congressional aides, including those of Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of a panel that oversees foreign aid. The U.S. government itself paid for an academic event on conflict resolution that she plans to attend this week between her delegation and a group of Georgians. She said her trip to Washington has been a success and has helped her overcome Soviet-era stereotypes of Americans. "Now I will be able to come back with a new America in my heart," she said.