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Georgian President Pledges Peaceful End to Regional Conflict - 2004-08-05


Georgia's president says he is committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in his country's breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions. Visiting President Mikhail Saakashvili continued two days of consultations with the Bush administration Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference, President Saakashvili backed away from earlier comments in which he threatened to fire on any foreign vessels entering Black Sea waters off Abkhazia. That comment had drawn a swift rebuke from Russian officials, some of whom openly worried that their two countries might be headed to war.

Mr. Saakashvili told reporters that armed conflict is not his goal, and that nothing can be achieved "at the end of a gun."

"Now let me say for the record: Georgia cannot and Georgia will not attempt to solve this conflict through the use of force and violent means," he said. "We are very pragmatic; we are very down to earth and we understand what we are doing. And we are very confident of what we are doing."

The 36-year-old Georgian leader spoke after meeting with U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. The United States has urged Russia and Georgia to find a peaceful resolution of tensions over the breakaway regions that have operated with de facto autonomy for more than a decade.

But if the aim is flexibility and compromise, President Saakashvili gave no sign that his goal of a unified nation is subject to negotiation. He said no one will be allowed to annex any part of his country, and that the breakaway regions are controlled by criminal elements that must be brought to justice.

"In the post-September 11 world, illegality and pockets of separatists can no longer be ignored or tolerated, because all of us know the type of threats that can come from those lawless havens or black holes," he added. "The international community must not allow those forces of instability and illegality to gain strength. The international community should robustly join us in our efforts to promote peace and a lasting settlement."

The Georgian leader also spoke of progress in his country. He said that, since coming to office earlier this year, he has worked to combat poverty, repair infrastructure, improve tax collection and shrink the size of bureaucracy. He said his government is succeeding, and that Georgia will never join the ranks of failed states.

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