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Georgia's Prime Minister Begins Washington Visit


Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli met U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday to begin a four-day Washington visit. Rice reaffirmed U.S. support for Georgia's sovereignty and efforts to settle its diplomatic confrontation with Russia. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The U.S. visit by Mr. Noghaideli comes at a time of simmering tensions between Georgia and Russia over the status of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

But the Georgian Prime Minister struck a conciliatory tone toward Moscow after his meeting with Secretary Rice.

In a talk with reporters following his 40-minute meeting with the secretary, he said it is time to end finger-pointing and try to find a solution to the issues that have soured Georgian-Russian relations for more than a decade:

"We think than instead of blaming each other, you know, who's responsible for what, we need to move ahead with a peace plan implementation in the region," said Zurab Nogaideli. "We have discussed this with Secretary Rice. She has promised that the United States will be fully backing up the approach of ours and we need to work on how to implement the peace plan."

The Georgian prime minister minimized the impact of economic sanctions Russia has imposed against Georgia in recent months, including curbs on cross border travel and bans on the import of Georgian goods, including wine.

He said the Russian moves have trimmed only about one and a half per cent from Georgia's gross economic output, which he said would jump by 10 percent this year because of reforms introduced in 2004 by the government of President Mikhail Saakashvili.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been effectively independent since the early 1990's. Georgia accuses Russia, which maintains peacekeeping forces in the two separatist regions, of seeking to annex the areas.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has had the lead in efforts to mediate the disputes, and was able to defuse a crisis that erupted in late September when Georgia arrested four Russian military officers on spy charges.

The four were eventually handed over to the OSCE chairman, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, who in turn facilitated their repatriation.

A State Department spokesman said Secretary Rice reaffirmed U.S. support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and for efforts led by the OSCE to peacefully resolve the disputes with Russia.

He said they also discussed Georgia's deepening relations with NATO, and cooperation with other Caucuses countries and Europe on improving regional energy security.

The Georgian Prime Minister's Washington itinerary also included meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney, White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.