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US Supports Shevardnadze Decision to Resign - 2003-11-24

The United States made clear Monday it welcomes the decision of former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign as a way to defuse the country's political crisis. But the State Department says U.S. officials did not press him to step down.

The political turmoil in Georgia was a major source of concern for the Bush administration, and Secretary of State Colin Powell had multiple weekend telephone conversations with Mr. Shevardnadze, with whom U.S. officials had worked closely since his time as foreign minister of the Soviet Union.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Mr. Powell encouraged the besieged Georgian leader to act in a way that would bring the crisis to a peaceful resolution, but he said the United States did not tell Mr. Shevardnadze what to do.

"We encouraged him to make decisions that would lead Georgia forward in a peaceful manner within the constitution of Georgia, and I think that's what we said in our statements," he said. "The secretary didn't discuss resignation with him in the conversations. But I think we made clear in our Sunday statement that we do think he made some hard decisions, but he made some good decisions for the people of Georgia."

Mr. Boucher said the secretary of state also conferred by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, as he arrived in Georgia Saturday on a mission to mediate the crisis, and with Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, in his capacity as chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.

After the Shevardnadze resignation Sunday, Mr. Powell spoke to Georgian Interim President Nino Burjanadze to offer U.S. support and to encourage her and other political leaders in Tbilisi to proceed, the spokesman said, in a manner consistent with the Georgian constitution.

Mr. Boucher said the United States is ready to work with Georgian politicians and with the OSCE to help with the new parliamentary elections the interim government has promised within 45 days.

Political unrest stemming from discredited elections on November 2 led to the downfall of Mr. Shevardnadze, who had led the country for most of its independence since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In a written statement issued after his resignation Sunday, the State Department called Mr. Shevardnadze a "towering figure" in Georgian history and a close friend of the United States.

It said that thanks to his efforts, Georgia emerged from a difficult period, including a civil war in the mid-1990s, to become a valued member of the international community, and that because of his contributions at the close of the Soviet era, millions of people of the former Soviet Union are living free in states committed to political and economic reform.