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US Announces $ 1 Billion Aid Package for Georgia

The Bush administration Wednesday announced a $1 billion economic aid package for Georgia to help that country recover from last month's conflict with Russia. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. package is part of an unprecedented global show of support for Georgia in the face of aggression by its larger neighbor. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Rice coupled announcement of the aid plan with harsh criticism of Russian behavior during and after the brief conflict.

She said the invasion by Russia failed to topple Georgia's democracy but has raised serious questions about the wisdom of integrating Moscow into international institutions.

The U.S. aid package is entirely economic and U.S. officials say they hope more than half of it, about $570 million, can be delivered by the end of the year.

Citing bipartisan sympathy and support for Georgia in the U.S. Congress, Rice expressed confidence the remainder will be provided, regardless of whether Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain wins the November election.

At the roll-out event for the aid plan, the Secretary of State said Russia may have demonstrated its military potency in Georgia but the operation has called into question its standing as a responsible player in world affairs. "It is very clear that Russia is not achieving its objectives. Georgian democracy is standing. It is thriving. It is receiving extraordinary international support -- that despite the unfortunate Russian decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are zones of conflict and which in the very cease-fire agreement that Russia signed, were to be subject of international discussions," she said.

Administration officials who briefed reporters joined Rice in calling for full Russian adherence to the French-brokered cease-fire accord. They rejected Moscow's assertion it is entitled, under the six-point plan, to set up a buffer zone or checkpoints beyond the two disputed regions.

The State Department's top expert on the Caucasus region, Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Bryza, also dismissed Moscow's continuing claim that Georgia started the conflict by its troop movement in South Ossetia August 7. "It did not begin on August 7th with the attack on Tskhinvali, by Georgia, which we do believe was a mistake. But it began much sooner, thanks to provocations by South Ossetian militias under the command, by the way, of Russian officers. So Georgia did not launch a war. Georgia was drawn into one," he said.

Bryza said there is no military aid in the U.S. package because of Georgia's pressing economic problems. But he clearly indicated that U.S. help in rebuilding the country's military will be forthcoming, once the Tbilisi government comes up with a new force-structure plan.

He rejected calls by Moscow for an arms embargo on Georgia, calling it a peace-loving sovereign state that has a right to develop its own military for defense, and contributions to international peace-keeping.