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Bush Praises Georgia's Efforts for Peaceful Conflict Resolution


President Bush says he is confident Georgia can peacefully resolve its dispute with the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Mr. Bush, the first American president to visit the former Soviet republic, addressed a large and responsive crowd in Tblisi's main square,

President Bush is backing Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's plan to restore the two breakaway republics.

"The president has put a way forward that encourages autonomy and self-government, but does not encourage dividing up his great country," he said. "That seems like to be a very reasonable proposition. But his commitment is that this issue will be resolved peacefully."

President Bush says he will try to help resolve the dispute, if President Saakashvili wants him too, offering to make a few phone calls, if asked. However, Mr. Bush made clear the issue itself must be resolved by Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia backs the separatist republics, adding to tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow. The two countries also have major differences over the withdrawal of some two-thousand-five-hundred Russian soldiers from this former Soviet republic.

President Saakashvili refused to attend Monday ceremonies in Moscow marking the end of the World War II in Europe, because he says there has not been enough progress in talks on closing the three Russian bases.

Russia says it could take up to four years to build the barracks and garages necessary to accommodate soldiers and equipment brought back to Russia.

Georgia's government wants the Russians out before parliament and presidential elections in January, 2008.

President Bush says he raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin and that the Russian leader told him Moscow wants to work with Tbilisi to fulfill its obligations under a 1999 agreement to withdraw those troops.

Mr. Bush says that is an important commitment for the people of Georgia to hear and shows there are grounds to get the issue resolved.

President Bush is the first American president to visit this former Soviet republic. He drew a huge crowd to Tbilisi's Freedom Square for his speech on democracy. He praised the country's so-called Rose Revolution which ousted then-President Edward Shevardnadze, following fraudulent elections in 2003.

"You gathered here armed with nothing but roses and the power of your convictions and you claimed your liberty," reminded President Bush. "And because you acted, Georgia is today both sovereign and free and a beacon of liberty for this region and the world."

It was a lively end to a five-day, four-nation trip which also took the president to the former Soviet republic, Latvia, and a cemetery in the Netherlands for Americans killed during the World War II.

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