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Rice Says Russia Risks Global Standing by Over-Reaching in Georgia Crisis

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday Russia may have already seriously damaged its international standing with its military over-reaction to the situation in South Ossetia. Rice spoke to Washington reporters hours before her scheduled departure on a crisis mission to France and Georgia to try to bolster European-led mediation efforts. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Rice, who is due to confer Thursday with French President Nikolas Sarkozy on his Georgia peace-making efforts, again stressed U.S. concern that Moscow may not be honoring the cease-fire commitment it made to the French leader.

The Secretary, echoing earlier comments by President Bush, called on Russia to halt its military operations and other activities that threaten its neighbor's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to cease rhetoric about ousting Georgia's democratically-elected government.

She declined under questioning to specify consequences for Moscow if it fails to heed such demands other than to say that it would add to the international isolation Moscow already finds itself in:

"It will only serve to deepen the very strong, growing sense that Russia is not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said it wants to be," said Condoleezza Rice. "And it's very clear to me that the consequences of that - which are already quite significant because of the way that Russia has brutally pushed this military operation well beyond the bounds of anything that that might have related to South Ossetia - calls into question Russia's suitability for all kinds of activities that it has said that it wants to be a part of."

Rice said Russia seriously over-reached by engaging in aerial bombing of Georgian cities and other activities that she said could not possibly be associated simply with protecting its peacekeeping forces and other interests in South Ossetia.

The Secretary, who was a Soviet-affairs expert in the first Bush administration, said she recognizes that the Russia of today is not the Soviet Union, but also suggested bluntly that the current Russian leadership should recognize that the Cold War tactics will not succeed in Georgia:

"This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia where Russia can threaten its neighbors, occupy a capital, overthrow a government, and get away with it," she said. "Things have changed. And so what I think Russia is seeing is that to the degree this is about South Ossetia, about even Abkhazia, let's accept that it is time to end the fighting, move the forces back to August 6th [positions] and then have a international mediation to try to resolve these conflicts within the context of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia."

Rice is to meet President Sarkozy in southern France to discuss his just-completed mediation mission to Tbilisi and Moscow, and holds additional talks later Thursday in Paris.

She then goes on to the Georgian capital for a high-profile show of support for the government of President Mikhail Saakashvili.