Bush Sends Rice, Aid To Show Support For Georgia

President Bush is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Georgia. He is also sending U.S. planes and naval vessels with humanitarian aid. The Bush administration urged Russia to clear the way for the aid shipments and pull its forces back.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Bush today expressed strong support for Georgia, and said that he is dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice there. Also today, an American plane filled with humanitarian supplies landed in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

BLOCK: Still, the Russian military continues to move through parts of Georgia. Today, those forces drove into the city of Gori and occupied a major Georgian port as well as some smaller towns. In a moment, we'll hear from our correspondents in Tbilisi and in Moscow.

First, NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on what President Bush had to say today.

MICHELE KELEMEN: After consulting his aides in the White House Situation Room and talking by phone to Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili, President Bush announced that he is having the U.S. military start a humanitarian mission to help Georgia recover.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We expect Russia to ensure that all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, airports, roads and airspace, remain open for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and for civilian transit.

KELEMEN: Georgian President Saakashvili took the White House announcement to mean that Georgian ports and airports would be under U.S. military control, though Pentagon officials quickly denied that. Saakashvili has been appealing for more help from his friends in Washington. Earlier in the day, in an interview with CNN, he said the Bush administration's initial statements in the crisis had been far too weak.

President MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI (Georgia): They were too soft. You know, Russians don't understand that kind of soft language. And certainly, America needs to act because America - everything America has achieved for the Cold War is being undermined and destroyed now.

KELEMEN: It has been France, not the U.S., in the lead on the diplomatic front. France, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, is now working on plans to send in international monitors. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to fly overnight to France and then travel on to Tbilisi to show support for President Saakashvili.

Though the U.S. has little leverage with Russia, administration officials warn that Russia's aspirations to join the World Trade Organization and remain a player in the group of eight leading industrialized nations could be at stake. Secretary Rice said any further Russian military action will hurt Moscow's standing.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. State Department): That will only serve to deepen the isolation into which Russia is moving. It will only serve to deepen the very strong, growing sense that Russia is not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said that it wants to be.

KELEMEN: This line of argument doesn't seem to concern Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. However, he accused the United States today of playing a dangerous game in the Caucasus by backing President Saakashvili.

Mr. SERGEY LAVROV (Foreign Minister, Russia): (Speaking foreign language)

KELEMEN: We understand that this current Georgian leadership is a special project of the United States, Lavrov said. But he added, one day, the United States will have to choose between defending it prestige over, as he put it, a virtual project, or a real partnership on issues that require joint action.

His comments angered Secretary Rice, who said that Russia works with the U.S. on issues like Iran and North Korea, not as a favor to the Bush administration but because it's in Russia's interest. And she said America has made its choice to support Georgia's democracy. Rice said, it's time to move on from the Cold War.

Sec. RICE: This is not 1968, in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten its neighbors, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed.

KELEMEN: The secretary said Russia seriously overreached; that its actions show this was about far more than just South Ossetia, the pro-Moscow region that Georgia tried to retake before being forced back by Russia's far more powerful military.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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Bush Urges Russia To Honor Truce In Georgia

Map: Russia, Georgia Clash
Credit: Corey Flintoff, Alice Kreit/NPR

Explaining The Conflict

President Bush on Wednesday called on Russia to live up to a cease-fire deal with Georgia, expressing concern over the continuing crisis and pledging humanitarian aid to the Western-backed former Soviet republic.

The president's remarks from the White House Rose Garden came as Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili said Russian forces were still burning and looting towns despite the truce. Saakashvili said the West's response to Russia's military intervention "looks like appeasement."

"There is no cease-fire," Saakashvili told CNN Wednesday a day after Russian forces shattered the Georgian army Monday after forcing it out of South Ossetia. "We have a humanitarian disaster on our hands."

Bush said the U.S. expects all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw. He said he would send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Paris to consult with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the truce. Then, she would go to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to express solidarity with the democratically elected leadership there.

"The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia and insists that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," Bush said.

Later Wednesday, Rice said Russian officials risk further isolation from the rest of the world if hostilities continue. "If indeed Russia is violating a cease-fire, and I have to say the reports are not encouraging about Russia's respect for the cease-fire ... that will only serve to deepen the isolation to which Russia is moving," said Rice, adding that Russia's response was out of proportion.

Bush said a U.S. Air Force C-17 military cargo plane loaded with supplies is en route to Georgia, and he called on Russia to ensure that "all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and airports," remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.

The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that a U.S. Air Force C-17 was enroute from Germany to Georgia carrying such items as medical supplies and bedding. Another flight was scheduled for Thursday. A 12-member U.S. government assistance team would also be sent "soon," a Pentagon spokesman said.

Earlier, Georgia's Security Council chief Alexander Lomaia said that Russia had moved 50 tanks into Gori, a strategic town 15 miles from the border with the breakaway region of South Ossetia, in violation of the accord. Witnesses in Gori backed up the Georgian claim, but the RIA-Novosti news agency cited the Russian Defense Ministry as denying any of its troops were in the town.

The Russian incursion began last week after Georgian forces moved against separatists in South Ossetia.

Saakashvili said Russian forces were cutting off roads and shooting people. He said the pro-Moscow separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were carrying out ethnic cleansing, burning villages and conducting summary executions.

Saakashvili's remarks came hours after the two sides accepted in principle a cease-fire to end the bloodshed. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said his nation would halt military action because Georgia had been "punished" for last week's attack on South Ossetia.

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