The United States is urging Russia to repeal orders earlier this week allowing increased contacts with two separatist regions in Georgia. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a telephone talk with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Friday. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Officials here are welcoming a conciliatory Russian statement on Georgia, but they are pressing for the repeal of steps ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday providing for increased contacts with the two separatist areas.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which border Russia and have large ethnic-Russian populations, have resisted control from Tbilisi since Georgia, a former Soviet Republic, became independent.
Mr. Putin's April 16 instructions to the Russian Foreign Ministry called for Russian officials to accept the legality of certain documents issued by authorities in the two areas and cooperate with them in trade and other matters.
Russia said the action did not mean it was seeking confrontation with Georgia, but the Tbilisi government called it part of a de facto annexation and a violation of international law.
The United States joined the European Union and NATO in expressing concern about the Russia action, which was described by a senior official here as "political mischief."
At a meeting Friday with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had just discussed the matter with her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and is very concerned about it:
"The United States is absolutely committed to the territorial integrity of Georgia," she said. "We believe that there should be an effort to carry out the plans that the Georgians have talked about to try and deal with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Obviously, the people of those regions need to have a good life and Georgia needs to provide for them. But we are very concerned about the steps that have been taken and we've made our views known to the Russian government."
Rice said she also discussed the issue Thursday with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.
In apparent response to criticism of its action, Russia issued a statement Friday saying that President Putin had ordered steps to repair troubled relations with Georgia, including the restoration of postal links and an end to visa restrictions.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said anything that enhances state-to-state and neighborly relations between Georgia and Russia is positive, but said the United States would still "urge and counsel" that the April 16 actions by Moscow be repealed.
That call was reiterated by the State Department in a written statement, which said the Russian action challenged Georgia's territorial integrity, and is not in keeping with Russia's status as a facilitator in Abkhazia and South Ossetia settlement efforts.
The State Department welcomed new proposals by Georgian President Saakashvili to resolve the Abkhazia conflict and urged the de facto authorities there to seriously consider them.
It also urged Moscow to work constructively with efforts by the U.N. Secretary-General and other international frameworks on the Georgian issues.