A key U.S. lawmaker says he believes the untimely death of Georgia's Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania will not set back the former Soviet republic's efforts to resolve conflicts in two breakaway regions.  Senator Richard Lugar just returned from Georgia, where he was part of a U.S. delegation at Mr. Zhvania's funeral.

Zurab Zhvania had played a key role in economic reform and efforts to resolve the separatist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mr. Zhvania, who took office just over a year ago, died last week, apparently after accidentally inhaling carbon monoxide fumes from a gas-fired heating stove.

Senator Lugar, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, just returned from Tblisi, where he met with President Mikhail Saakashvili after attending Mr. Zhvania's funeral.

Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, Mr. Lugar says he believes Georgia will stay the course on reform and will continue efforts to keep his country together, efforts that he says would require support from the United States and Europe, including Russia.

"In the meeting we had with President Saakashvili, sort of stricken as he was by what had occurred totally unexpected with this 41-year-old man [Mr. Zhvania], he understood the consequences,? he said.  ?He underlined to us what I thought a very clear-headed view of how to proceed in South Ossetia.  But, likewise, a plea to us, that is the American delegates sitting there, that help is going to be needed both there and especially in Abkhazia, with Russian friends, with European friends, with an outreach that only we could bring to this situation."

Senator Lugar says he hopes President Bush puts Georgia on the agenda when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia later this month.

Mr. Lugar made his remarks shortly before President Saakashvili nominated Finance Minister Zurab Nogaidelias, to succeed Mr. Zhvania.  The nominee awaits confirmation by the parliament.