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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgian Response Sought

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia has failed to respond in kind to Moscow's latest steps to improve bilateral relations, Russian Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko said Wednesday.

"Relations between our countries have to be based on mutual respect and fair play. Russia's policy in relation to Georgia is exactly that," Kovalenko told journalists after handing over credentials to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

"But there has to be a response or, better still, an initiative from Tbilisi. So far there has been none."

Russian officials have said Kovalenko's return to Tbilisi could be followed by easing economic sanctions imposed against Tbilisi after Russian officers were briefly detained on spying charges. Kovalenko was also recalled at that time.

Also Wednesday, Georgia reiterated its call for direct, unconditional talks between Saakashvili and the leader of the breakaway Abkhazia region, but the separatist leader rejected the call, saying the sides must sign a nonaggression pact.

"The Georgian side is ready for direct business dialogue with the Abkhaz side without any preconditions," Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told reporters. "But this meeting must be aimed at achieving a concrete result ... that is why it must be thoroughly prepared."

Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, however, was ready to hold such talks only after the two sides pledged not to resume hostilities, his spokesman, Kristian Zhvania said.

"We don't need a meeting for the sake of a meeting," Zhvania quoted Bagapsh as saying.

(Reuters, AP)