FORMER U.S. SENATOR HART URGES PARTY TO SOFTEN STANCE ON RUSSIA

By Peter Duveen

PETER'S NEW YORK, August 29, 2008--Although Democrats have generally taken a hard line toward Russia regarding its conflict with neighboring Georgia, former U.S. Senator Gary Hart said yesterday he believed his party should consider a more toned down response to the dispute between the two nations.
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Earlier this month, Georgian troops attacked South Ossetia, where both Russian and Georgian peace keepers were stationed under an international agreement. Russia responded by invading Georgia and neutralizing its military. Both Democrats and Republicans have fallen over each other to condemn Russia's actions. But Hart, in statements made at a panel discussion sponsored by the National Democratic Institute and the Center for U.S. Global Engagement, said a "more nuanced" approach to the situation was more appropriate. Hart said he has been a participant in a recently formed commission to improve American-Russian relations. He said the commission would come out with a statement in the near future.

Hart cited the history of the region over the past 300 years, and particularly in the last 100 years, as considerations in attempting to grasp the actions of Russia and other state players in recent events. "We understand it is not a simple black-white situation," Hart said, calling the issues involved "complex."

Panelists were discussing what the foreign policy of a Barack Obama administration might look like. Obama is the Democratic nominee for the upcoming presidential elections.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI), a quasi-government nonprofit entity, purports to assist citizens of countries in establishing democratic initiatives. It has been accused by critics, particularly Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), of interfering in the electoral politics of the countries it claims to be helping. In 2004, Paul called for a congressional investigation into the activities of the NDI and other organizations that, according to Paul, have illegally interfered in the internal affairs of other countries. Paul specifically cited the so-called "Orange Revolution" of the Ukraine as an event in which the NDI intervened to support a particular side in an election, rather than carrying out an even-handed support of democratic principles and institutions in the country.

The Center for U.S. Global Engagement positions itself as an organization that unites business and humanitarian agencies to promote international progress.

During the discussion, some of the panelists chimed in on the Russia-Georgia conflict in response to questioning by Hart, who served as the panel's moderator. Anthony Lake, Obama's primary adviser on foreign policy, called Russia's recent actions "a very dangerous precedent," and said they may prompt other nations to make similar moves. "This is going to be a very tough issue," he said. "There should be a price paid for an action like this."

"Aggression will not be tolerated," said Susan Rice, a former State Department official. "There will be consequences."

It was in response to the panelists' more hardline remarks that Hart made his comments. Hart characterized his viewpoint as a "tiny note of dissent."

The panel discussion, which took place in Denver during the Democratic National Convention there, aired today on the cable television news network C-SPAN.

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