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US Welcomes Georgian Troop Pullback in South Ossetia - 2004-08-20


The United States Friday welcomed a withdrawal of Georgian troops from the breakaway South Ossetia region after a show of force by the Tbilisi government that had angered Russia and raised U.S. concern.

The State Department is welcoming the withdrawal of Georgian forces from heights overlooking the South Ossetian regional capital, Tskhinvali, and is expressing hope the move will trigger political talks to settle the dispute over the breakaway region.

Georgian forces occupied the area around the city this week after several days of clashes with South Ossetian separatists that came despite a nominal truce agreement last week.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to bring South Ossetia and other wayward territories back under central control, and has described the troop pullback as a last-chance gesture to avoid an all-out war.

The area, in the Caucasus mountains along the border with Russia, has had defacto independence since a war with authorities in Tbilisi in 1992 and is under heavy Russian influence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Moscow was concerned about what he described as an "explosive" situation in South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region Abkhazia. He publicly urged Mr. Saakashvili not to repeat what he termed "stupid" past decisions by Georgian leaders in dealing with the restive territories.

In a written statement here, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States welcome's Mr. Saakhasvili's withdrawal decision, and urges all parties to act with restraint as the pullback proceeds.

Mr. Ereli said that the Georgian government's ability to carry out its ambitious reform agenda depends on having peace and stability.

He called on the parties to the conflict and diplomats from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to capitalize on the "positive momentum" created by the troop withdrawal to arrange negotiations toward a political settlement that "preserves South Ossetian autonomy within Georgia."

The United States has been working with both Georgian and Russian officials to try to ease tensions. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed South Ossetia by telephone earlier this week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The South Ossetia and Abkhazia issues also figured heavily in talks during a Washington visit by Mr. Saakashvili earlier this month.

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