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US Urges Easing of Russian-Georgian Tensions - 2004-08-04


The United States Wednesday urged Russia and Georgia to find a peaceful resolution of tensions over the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The issue is a focus of talks with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who is visiting Washington.

Mr. Saakashvili's visit comes amid rising tensions between the Tbilisi government and Moscow over the two Georgian regions, which have had de facto autonomy since separatist conflicts in the early 1990s, and have close ties to Russia.

The 36-year-old Georgian president has vowed to reunify the country since taking office early this year after leading the so-called "rose revolution" that toppled the country's long-time leader, Eduard Shevardnadze.

Earlier this week, Russia hinted of possible military action in response to a Georgian threat to open fire on vessels illegally entering Black Sea waters off Abkhazia, while a Russian lawmaker said he had been fired on by Georgian forces while visiting South Ossetia.

The United States has strongly supported Mr. Saakashvili's administration and Georgia's territorial integrity, and Secretary of State Colin Powell engaged in telephone diplomacy with Georgia and Russia to help defuse an upsurge of tensions a month ago.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is again urging the sides to avoid an escalation.

"The situation, particularly in South Ossetia, has been one that we've been following closely," he said. "The OSCE's been involved there. The Georgians and the Russians have had meetings and discussions about it. And we have certainly encouraged them all to try to work this out, reach arrangements that avoid raising tensions and avoid potential clashes."

President Saakashvili began his U.S. visit with a meeting Wednesday with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He is to meet Thursday with Secretary Powell and officials of the White House National Security Council.

The Georgian leader, who studied and practiced law in the United States in the 1990s, will attend the annual convention of the American Bar Association in Atlanta and will receive an award Saturday for promoting the rule of law in his country.