Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has called on Russia to withdraw its military forces from Georgia. Mr. Rumsfeld is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Georgia since the resignation of former President Eduard Shevardnadze last month, following massive protest demonstrations.

Secretary Rumsfeld, after meeting with interim President Nino Burjanadze, told reporters that Russia should withdraw its troops from Georgian soil as called for in an agreement signed in 1999 in Turkey.

"We have had good meetings with the president and certainly wanted to underscore America's very strong support for stability and security and the territorial integrity here in Georgia," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "As Secretary Powell indicated, the United States agrees that Russia should fulfill its commitments under the Istanbul Accords to withdraw Russian forces from Georgia."

Secretary Rumsfeld said Georgia is a staunch friend of the west, and the United States welcomes the acting president's commitment to hold free and fair elections next month, on January 4. He said a credible election process is certainly critical to stability in Georgia and to the country's continued integration with the west.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States stands ready to assist Georgia during the period ahead. "I also expressed our appreciation for Georgia's critical assistance in the global war on terror," he said. "During both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Georgia has provided assistance; and Georgian Special Forces, of course, serve alongside coalition troops in Iraq."

The interim government came to power last month after three weeks of massive demonstrations against the results of parliamentary elections, which opposition leaders and western officials said were rigged.

This led to the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze in what Geogians call the revolution of the roses. The bloodless overthrow was also seen as a backlash against widespread alleged corruption in Mr. Shevardnadze's government.

The leader of the National Movement, Mikhail Saakashvili, is considered the leading candidate for president in the upcoming elections.

Interim President Nino Burjanadze told Mr. Rumsfeld Georgians took to the streets in large but peaceful demonstrations to defend their country. She said Georgians are proud that what happened in Georgia happened without any violence and without any bloodshed.

The United States has spent more than a billion dollars in the last decade to help develop Georgia. Washington has a strategic interest in oil resources in the nearby Caspian Sea, where a multi-billion dollar pipeline is being built through Georgia and Turkey.

Currently the U.S. Marine Corps is helping to train Georgian soldiers as part of a $64 million program to modernize the military, as part of the international war on terrorism.