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US Renews Appeal for Political Solution to Standoff in Georgia - 2004-05-05

The United States renewed its appeal Wednesday for a political solution to a simmering crisis in Georgia between the central government in Tbilisi and authorities in the rebel Ajaria region on the Black Sea coast. The United States and Russia have held senior level discussions on the issue.

U.S. officials are concerned that the standoff in Georgia could lead to regional instability and the issue figured in Secretary of State Colin Powell's meeting at the United Nations Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russia has a military base in Ajaria and has been accused by some officials in Tbilisi of encouraging the rebellious leader of the region, Aslan Abashidze, who refuses to recognize the authority of the Georgian government.

But at a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States and Russia are united in not wanting to see the situation flare into full-scale hostilities:

?Both the U.S. and Russia are looking for political dialogue, looking for the parties to try to make every effort to try to solve their disputes peacefully and especially to avoid provocation actions,? he said. ?The Secretary cited in particular some of the actions on the part of the Ajarians recently and other attempts to provoke military confrontation.?

The State Department earlier this week expressed deep concern about Mr. Abashidze's decision to blow up bridges connecting the region with the rest of Georgia, saying the action was provocative and called into question his professed commitment to serving the interests of the Ajarian people.

It also accused him of ordering his security forces to beat and harass political opponents, many of whom have been demonstrating in recent days for his resignation.

Spokesman Boucher said the U.S. ambassador in Tbilisi, Richard Miles has been in contact with Mr. Abashidze and with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania among others, to urge a peaceful end to the crisis.

He said that following the Powell-Lavrov meeting in New York, Russian President Vladimir Putin had called his Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili and that Mr. Putin's national security adviser Igor Ivanov had flown to Georgia Wednesday to help mediate in the conflict.