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Rice Cites Progress in Russia-Georgia Mediation Efforts

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking after telephone consultations with big-power foreign ministers, said there has been progress in European mediation efforts on the Russia-Georgia conflict. Rice said Moscow must abide by its stated promise to halt military operations. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Rice is welcoming the apparent progress in the French-led mediation effort with Russia and Georgia but says further steps to defuse the crisis depend on the warring parties making good on their stated intention to cease hostilities.

Rice, speaking at the White House after meeting President Bush, said she and fellow foreign ministers of the G7 Industrial powers had been given a telephone briefing from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on the mission to Moscow by French President Nikolas Sarkozy.

"They believe that they made have made some progress and we welcome that, we welcome the EU mediation," she said. "It is very important now that all parties cease-fire. The Georgians have agreed to the cease-fire. The Russians need to stop their military operations, as they apparently have said that they will. But those military operations really do now need to stop."

Rice said a cease-fire would be followed by the withdrawal of forces from the zone of conflict, and efforts to resolve the long-running conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but not, she made clear, by redrawing the current borders of Georgia.

"I want to make very clear that the United States stands for the territorial integrity of Georgia, for the sovereignty of Georgia, that we support its democratically-elected government and its people," said Rice. "We are reviewing our options for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Georgia."

The two Georgian regions, both of which border Russia and have large ethnic-Russian populations, have resisted central Georgian authority since the former Soviet republic became independent in 1991.

Russia says it intervened last week after Georgian forces tried to capture South Ossetia. But State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood reiterated Tuesday that Russian retaliation, including wide-ranging air strikes, went far beyond any notion of trying to protect Russians living in South Ossetia.

"It was pure aggression on the part of Russia," he said. "They overreacted. This is not an issue of trying to just protect your citizens. Attacking civilians, attacking a member of the United Nations the way they did, that was just uncalled for."

President Bush Tuesday continued international phone contacts in support of the peace effort, calling German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after a late-night discussion Monday with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Mr. Bush, in a somber White House statement before that call, termed Moscow's military drive and seeming effort to depose Georgia's elected government "unacceptable" behavior in the 21st century.