U.S. President George Bush, citing evidence Russia may further escalate
its role in the Georgian conflict, on Monday called on Moscow to
reverse course and accept the European ceasefire plan already embraced
by the Tbilisi government. Mr. Bush called Russian actions in Georgia
unacceptable conduct in the 21st Century. VOA's David Gollust reports
from the State Department.
In a strongly worded three-minute statement, the President expressed alarm that Russian forces have moved beyond the zone of conflict in South Ossetia, attacked the central town of Gori, are threatening the capital Tbilisi, and may soon begin bombing the Tbilisi civilian airport:
"If these reports are accurate, these Russian actions would represent dramatic and brutal escalation of the conflict in Georgia. These actions would be inconsistent with assurances we have received from Russia that its objectives were limited to restoring the status quo in South Ossetia that existed before fighting began on August 6th," he said.
Mr. Bush said Russia's invasion of a sovereign neighbor and threats to its elected democratic government are unacceptable conduct in the 21st Century.
He said Georgia has accepted elements of a European peace plan that Moscow had previously said it was willing to accept including an immediate cease-fire, a withdrawal of forces from the zone of conflict, renunciation of the use of force and a return to the status quo of last week.
Noting the presence of European mediators in Moscow, he said Russia must reverse its apparent course and embrace the cease-fire plan.
He made no specific mention of consequences if Moscow fails to do so, but suggested that Russia's international prestige has already been badly hurt:
"Russia's action this week have raised serious questions about its intentions in Georgia and the region. These actions have substantially damaged Russia's standing in the world, and these actions jeopardize Russia's relations with the United States and Europe. It's time for Russia to be true to its word, and act to end this crisis," he said.
Earlier Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrial powers endorsed the European-led mediation effort in a telephone conference call.
A senior State Department official, who spoke to reporters, meanwhile said Russian responsibility for the crisis is far greater than that of Georgia, and dismissed Russian claims it was responding to Georgian provocations as laughable.
The Pentagon said the United States has airlifted members of Georgia's 2,000-member troop contingent in Iraq back home under a long-standing commitment.
The State Department earlier rejected a Russian charge that the airlift amounts to U.S. involvement in the conflict.
A senior U.S. diplomat, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Matthew Bryza flew to Tbilisi Monday to coordinate U.S. contacts with the Georgian government and help facilitate mediation efforts.