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US Officials See Difficult Period in US-Russia Relations


Lawmakers on the House and Senate foreign affairs committees closely questioned U.S. officials Tuesday about future relations with Russia in the wake of the war between Russia and Georgia. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, the United States is carefully reviewing how to help Georgia rebuild its military with a package of economic aid to Georgia already pledged.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried says it is in U.S. interests to help Georgia recover economically, stabilize and restore its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and address what he called "legitimate military needs".

With a $1 billion economic aid package pledged by Washington, he said the United States is working with NATO and is sending a Defense Department team to Georgia to help determine what form appropriate military assistance would take.

"We are going to make a careful assessment of Georgia's needs," Fried said. "We are going to think about what the appropriate response is to those needs, and we will be discussing that on a separate track."

Fried and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Eric Edelman used strong language in characterizing the challenges ahead in U.S.-Russian relations.

Russia must be prevented from drawing a new line in Europe, said Fried, while Edelman asserted that Moscow's relations with Washington, and the world, have reached a crossroads, adding that Russia must decide how it wants to be seen by the world.

"The international community has resolutely rejected Russian aggression," Edelman said. "Russia's future actions, including those it takes in the coming weeks and months in Georgia, will continue to define how it is viewed in the world and how the world defines and moves forward with Russia. We hope that on sober reflection Russia will choose a different path, but our policy will respond appropriately to Russian actions."

Democratic Representative Howard Berman, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asked these questions about a potential military aid package.

"Will it be basic replenishment of armaments damaged in the recent conflict? Will it allow Georgia the ability to participate in foreign missions such as Iraq, or will it provide the capacity for self-defense in case of future attacks? Given the asymmetrical nature of the Russian and Georgian forces, just what kind of arms could possibly give Tiblisi the ability to defend itself from future incursions," he asked.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Democrat Carl Levin, says American officials must determine where U.S-Russia relations go in light of Russian military assertiveness in Georgia.

"What is the right balance to strike in terms between signaling to Russia that its claims of a sphere of influence which override the sovereignty of its neighbors are unacceptable, while keeping the door open to Russian integration into the broader international community, and working with Russia in areas where our strategic interests are aligned, such as preventing a nuclear Iran, or [in] counter-terrorism efforts," asked Senator Levin.

Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says Georgia's future and that of the entire region depends on how the United States and members of the European Union react in coming months.

"Will there be claims that parts of Ukraine rightfully belong in Russia? Will there be pressure on the Baltic states, where so many ethnic Russians live? Will northern Kazakhstan and its large population of ethnic Russians become an issue? Will Russian troops ever leave the independent country of Moldova which has sought their withdrawal for many years," she said.

But other members of congress pointed to Georgian actions in South Ossetia that played a role in provoking a strong Russian military response in Georgia.

In the House of Representatives, Republican Dana Rohrabacher and Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee say the U.S. must preserve its ability to work with Russia.

We have been just pushing the Russians and pushing the Russians, making them into an enemy when they at first wanted to be friends," Rohrabacher said.

"Our friends in Russia are as important as our friends in Georgia," said Lee. "We must find a balance. We can sit here and accuse. Yes, I believe that Georgia was aggressive. At the same time, Russia is huge and growing. Let us find a way to create peace and opportunity."

Assistant Secretary Fried told lawmakers on Tuesday that while the United States does not seek a bad relationship with Russia "until Russia's leaders change their path the two countries may be in for a difficult period."

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