The Bush administration urged Georgia's government Monday to seek a peaceful settlement of its standoff with officials in the renegade province of Adjara. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue in talks with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania.
The confrontation between authorities in Tbilisi and pro-Russian officials in Adjara has been underway with varying intensity since last year's "rose revolution" toppled the government of long-time Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze.
Local officials in the region on the Black Sea Coast have refused to accept the authority of the central government and Georgia's new President Mikhail Saakashvili, who took office earlier this year, has vowed to bring Adjara back under central control.
The issue figured heavily in Mr. Powell's meeting here with the Georgian Prime Minister. With Mr. Zhvania standing beside him at a press appearance, the Secretary of State urged that the Adjara matter be resolved without bloodshed.
"I expressed to the Prime Minister our hopes that they could achieve their desired goals through political and economic measures and hoped that it would not result in any kind of violence," he said. "This is a time to find political and economic solutions to the outstanding issues within the state of Georgia."
The Bush administration has stepped-up aid and diplomatic support to Georgia since last year's political turmoil and Mr. Powell led the U.S. delegation to Mr. Saakashvili's inauguration January 25. In his remarks here, Mr. Zhvania said American assistance has been critical to Georgia since its independence in 1991, but especially since last year's unrest.
"Once again I want to express our gratitude for continuing assistance from United States, which was quite often a matter of survival for Georgia during all previous years," he said. "[The] U.S. was first to support Georgia after Rose Revolution, what allowed us to survive very difficult post-revolution period and go ahead with process of reforms."
Secretary Powell in turn said he thanked Mr. Zhvania for Georgia's contribution to Iraq reconstruction and stabilization efforts. Georgia has a contingent of about 160 troops in Iraq, serving in Baghdad and Tikrit.