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Rice Calls for Peaceful End to Russia-Georgia Standoff

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has offered America's help in easing tensions between Russia and its southern neighbor Georgia, the latest stop on her diplomatic swing through Europe. Rice is using her talks in Georgia to try and quell the tensions over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have been the focus on increasing violence and heated rhetoric. But as Emma Stickgold reports for the VOA from Moscow, some believe outside help may further destabilize the region.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Georgian officials in Tbilisi, expressing hope for a peaceful end to what some are calling a high-stakes power play between Russia and Georgia.

"It is extremely important that the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia be resolved on the basis of principles that respect that territorial integrity, that respect the need for them to be resolved peacefully," she said.

Abkhazia, which is located in Georgia, shook itself free from Tbilisi's government control in the early 1990s. While Russia does not formally recognize the region, it has been under Moscow's protection, and most of its residents have been granted Russian citizenship. Georgia has since accused Moscow of trying to annex its territory.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another breakaway region, have been the focal point of Russian efforts to end to Georgia's controversial bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Conflict between the pro-Western Georgian government, headed by President Mikhail Saakashvili, and separatists in the two volatile regions flared up earlier this year, marked by a sharp rise in violence. A bomb explosion at an Abkhazian café killed four people Sunday, while two were killed last week in a clash between rebels and Georgian troops in South Ossetia.

Secretary Rice says the violence must be stopped.

"We have noted concerns that violence should be - should not be carried out by any party, and we through the friends process will do everything that we can to help resolve those conflicts," she said.

Western interest in a resolution to this issue stems, in part, from Georgia's prime location along the route taken by Central Asian and Caspian Sea oil as well as natural gas that is westward bound.

But some analysts say the United States may only be fanning flames that maintain Georgian hopes of securing the return of the breakaway regions.

Fyodr Lukyanov, a foreign policy analyst and editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, says Rice's call for peace is not likely to be effective in this case.

"My reading is that those statements are rather counterproductive because first they are, of course, extremely badly received in Russia, and Russia considers it as a very biased involvement of the United States in the region; and second, those comments give Mr. Saakashvili a feeling that America is completely on the Georgian side and this could move him to more activities including a quite destabilizing one - in both the South Ossetian and Abkhazian cases," said Lukyanov. "The situation in the region generally is quite acute, and external forces need to be very careful by getting involved in that."

Lukyanov says the problems between Russia and Georgia are long-standing, complex, and he is not sure whether they can be resolved without violence.

Secretary Rice also met in Tbilisi with leaders of the Georgian opposition, encouraging them to continue developing their country's democracy, despite flawed presidential and parliamentary elections in the past year.