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Powell Meets with Georgian Counterpart - 2004-06-01


Secretary of State Colin Powell met with his Georgian counterpart, Salome Zourabichvili, in Washington and renewed the U.S. call for the removal of Russian military bases from Georgia. However, he said he also thinks the United States and Russia can work together to help the economically struggling Caucusus state.

Mr. Powell said the two Russian bases in Georgia, a legacy of the Soviet era, serve no military purpose and should be removed.

In a joint press appearance with Ms. Zourabichvili after their talks here, the Secretary nonetheless sounded a conciliatory tone toward Moscow.

He said the United States stays in close touch with what he termed "our Russian friends" over developments in Georgia and believes the two powers can work together to help Georgians build a stable democracy, eliminate corruption and integrate into the trans-Atlantic and European communities.

?We will stay in close consultation with Georgian leaders and with our Russian colleagues as well with respect to the military bases,? he said. ?Our position is clear. We believe that the bases should be removed. They no longer serve a real military purpose. But I am confident that in the months ahead, with continued goodwill on the part of all parties, we will find a way to move forward.?

Russia and Georgia have argued over a timetable for removing the bases from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two self-proclaimed republics in Georgian territory, with Georgia calling for an end to the Russian presence in three years and Moscow saying it wants 10 years for the pullout.

Mr. Powell said the talks covered Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as Ajaria on the Black Sea coast, where the Tbilisi government restored control last month after separatist leader Aslan Abashidze went into exile under U.S. and other international pressure.

In her remarks with Mr. Powell, Foreign Minister Zourabichvili said the government of President Mikhail Saakashvili, who took office in January, has been a "success story in democracy" because of help from the United States among others.

?We are moving with determination, we are moving relatively fast and we are moving with great hope,? she said. ?And a lot of that is due to the support that we have received from our American friends, and that has been very important for the Georgian population and it will remain very important.?

Mr. Powell hailed what he called the "historic transformation" in Georgia since late last year, when Mr. Saakashvili was elected president after leading the so-called "rose revolution" that ended the rule of longtime leader Eduard Shevardnazde. He also thanked Georgia for its commitment of troops to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

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