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US insists it still strongly backs Georgia leaders

US insists it still strongly backs Georgia leaders

Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 7:15 pm
By: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration may have ceded mediation duties between Russia and Georgia to Europe but is holding firm to its support for Georgia’s pro-Western leadership and demands that Moscow withdraw its troops from the former Soviet republic. While waiting for the results of a European Union initiative led by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, the administration and its allies also are debating ways to punish Russia for its invasion of Georgia, including expelling Moscow from an exclusive club of wealthy nations and canceling an upcoming joint NATO-Russia military exercise. Although mainly focused on securing a truce and dealing with Georgia’s urgent humanitarian needs after five days of fierce fighting that may have killed 2,000 people, U.S. officials already are looking to next steps, including the pullout of Russian soldiers and new peacekeeping missions in the flashpoint separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “It is very important now that all parties cease fire,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday. “The Georgians have agreed to a cease-fire. The Russians need to stop their military operations, as they have apparently said that they will. But those military operations really do now need to stop because calm needs to be restored.” A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe confidential high-level diplomatic conversations, said European and other leaders have been blunt with Russia that it must withdraw. Russia insists it does not plan a long-term occupation, the official said, but it isn’t clear whether Russia has offered a timeline for withdrawal. “People are saying, ’You know, you cannot stay,”’ the official said. “We have been hearing from Russia, ’We don’t want to stay.”’ Yet as they pursue those efforts, President Bush and his top aides are engaged in urgent consultations with European and other nations over how best to demonstrate their fierce condemnation of the Russian operation that began in South Ossetia, expanded to Abkhazia and ended up on purely Georgian soil. Published in The Messenger 8.13.08

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