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Bush: Breakaway Regions Must Remain Part of Georgia

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U.S. President George Bush says Russia must not lay claim to the breakaway Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Mr. Bush says all Russia forces must leave Georgia. Russia says there is no timetable for that withdrawal.

President Bush says the breakaway republics at the center of this military conflict will remain part of Georgia.

"A major issue is Russia's contention that the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia may not be a part of Georgia's future. But these regions are a part of Georgia. And the international community has repeatedly made clear that they will remain so," he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this past week said Georgia can forget about getting back the separatist regions as Russian President Dmitri Medvedev met with the self-declared leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

President Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch Saturday that the two regions lay clearly within Georgia's internationally recognized borders.

"Georgia's borders should command the same respect as every other nation's. There is no room for debate on this matter," he said.

Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn Saturday said Russian peacekeepers will never leave South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Foreign Minister Lavrov said there is no timetable for the withdrawal of Russian troops in Georgia outside those territories, and that pull-out remains contingent on security.

President Bush said President Medvedev's signing a cease-fire plan Saturday is an important development and a hopeful step. Mr. Bush said Russia must now honor that agreement and withdraw its forces from Georgia.

The president met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Saturday for a briefing on her meetings in France and Georgia. Rice said French President Nicholas Sarkozy told her that President Medvedev vowed to begin withdrawing troops the minute Georgia signed the cease-fire agreement. As they have not, Rice said Russians are perhaps already not honoring their word.

Rice travels to Brussels in the coming week for a meeting of foreign ministers, NATO allies and European Union officials to continue what President Bush says is America's efforts to rally the free world in defense of a free Georgia.

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