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Bush: Georgia's Military Needs Support in Anti-Terrorist Efforts - 2002-09-20

President Bush is trying to calm tensions between Russia and Georgia over cross-border raids by Chechen rebels. The president met with Russia's foreign and defense ministers at the White House Friday to ask for more time for Georgian authorities to go after the terrorists.

President Bush says Russia must not threaten Georgian sovereignty in its hunt for Chechen rebels hiding in the Pankisi Gorge.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president is asking Russia to give Georgian officials more time to counter the threat with the help of U.S. training.

"The president stressed the importance of Russia protecting the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia," he added. "The president talked about the United States' desire to work closely with the Georgian government. We have a program to train and equip the Georgian military so they can take action against the terrorists in Georgia."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov pointed out Moscow is prepared to launch pre-emptive strikes against Chechen rebels in Georgia. After his White House meeting Friday, Mr. Ivanov said he showed President Bush evidence of Georgian complicity in the rebel attacks.

"We explained to our U.S. counterparts and provided to them clear proof that a number of Georgian authorities have direct ties to the terrorists," he said.

Georgian officials deny those allegations and say they will defend themselves against a Russian attack. The Georgian parliament, last week, approved a nearly 30 percent increase in defense spending, some of which will go to new anti-aircraft weapons.

Georgia and the United States both accuse Russia of violating Georgian air space on bombing raids against Chechen rebels.

The Bush administration hopes to resolve the dispute between the U.S. allies with talks ahead of next month's summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States.