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Bush Meets With New Georgian President - 2004-02-25

President Bush has met for the first time at the White House with the new president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, signaling U.S. support for reform efforts in that country. Both men also emphasized the importance of relations between Georgia and Russia.

They began their talks with praise for U.S.-Georgian ties. But both stressed that Georgia, which once was part of the former Soviet Union, also must cultivate its relations with Moscow.

President Bush said he was impressed by the new Georgian leader, who came to power in elections that followed what has been called the "Rose Revolution." "I know first hand that the president will do everything he can to earn the confidence of the people of Georgia by representing their will, by fighting corruption, by working for a system based upon integrity and decency and human rights," he said.

Mikheil Saakashvili was elected president in January, replacing Eduard Shevardnadze, who stepped down in the face of massive public protests. Mr. Saakashvili told President Bush that Georgia and America are in agreement on more than security and economic matters. He said they share common values. "Regarding our revolution, it was the proudest moment of my own life and the lives of a whole generation. We are so proud that we were supported in our fight democracy, for people's right to choose, by the United States. And Washington was the first to come and help us," he said.

This was his first official trip to the United States, but not his first visit to another country since taking office. Mr. Saakashvili went to Russia, where he began the process of mending ties and easing tensions. President Bush said it was a wise thing to do, stressing it is good for Georgia to have strong, peaceful relations with Moscow. "I found it to be a very positive move, and a very sophisticated move by the president that his first trip was to Russia. And I encouraged that. I think it was a smart thing to do," he said.

Mr. Bush also said he expects Russia will live up to its commitment to pull its troops out of bases in Georgia. And he said he will work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to make sure relations with Georgia remain positive.