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US Lawmakers Debate Resolution Criticizing Russia

There has been new debate in the U.S. Congress over tensions between Russia and the Republic of Georgia. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where the matter came up as a congressional committee considered a symbolic resolution critical of Russia.

The discussion took place as the House Foreign Affairs Committee considered a resolution supported by Florida Democrat Robert Wexler, chairman of the European affairs subcommittee.

The measure expresses what is called a "sense of the House of Representatives" about what it calls "provocative and dangerous statements and actions taken by the government of the Russian Federation that undermine the territorial integrity of the Republic of Georgia".

Among other things, it mentions the shooting down last month of a Georgian reconnaissance drone, which Georgia said was destroyed by a Russian aircraft.

In addition, it contains an endorsement of NATO membership for Georgia, something the NATO has said will happen, although neither Georgia nor Ukraine have formally received a specific Membership Action Plan (MAP).

When the resolution came up in the House committee, several panel members objected, including California Republican Ed Royce. "Georgia and Russia could be a spark away from serious conflict there. I realize that Russia wants Georgia out of NATO, it wants Georgia out desperately, it is trying to signal us to reject Georgia, so I understand my colleague's position but just because Russia opposes something, in this case Georgia in NATO, doesn't mean it is in our interest to do it, to make this commitment," he said.

Congressman Wexler says the resolution merely re-states NATO's position coming out of its Bucharest summit endorsing membership for Georgia. "This resolution is simply stating that when Russia goes ahead unilaterally, shoots down a drone, violates another nation's sovereignty, that we the U.S. House of Representatives in a resolution can point that out and say that is not constructive and say that we support a peace process that the Georgians have initiated and that yes, we the U.S. House support what NATO did at the Bucharest summit," he said.

Lawmakers have watched uncomfortably rising tensions between Russia and Georgia, including the latest involving Georgian allegations of Russian "military aggression" after Moscow decided to send additional peacekeeping troops to Abkhazia, the breakaway region of Georgia allied with Moscow, and Russian counter-charges.

California Democrat Brad Sherman and Republican Dana Rohrabacher voiced concern about actions by the House committee they worry might be seen as anti-Russian:

ROHRABACHER: " We have a totally inconsistent position when it comes to some countries that might have areas that want to have their self-determination but are occupied by people who are somewhat pro-Russian.

SHERMAN: "There are substantial claims of the people of Abkhazia, and the people of South Ossetia, to go their own way and not to be part of Georgia. There are arguments on the other side, and perhaps we would need a more extensive review before we put the national security of the U.S. on the line."

In the end, the resolution was approved as part of a package of foreign affairs legislation.

Before the NATO summit in Bucharest, the House approved a separate resolution urging the alliance to enter into membership plans with Georgia and Ukraine.

The Senate recently approved a bipartisan measure applauding the NATO Bucharest summit statement on eventual membership.