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Biden: US wants a 'United Georgia'

Video by Carla WESTERHEIDE


Latest update : 2009-07-23

US Vice President Joe Biden said to Georgian lawmakers on Thursday that Washington would support Georgian accession to NATO, and that the US did not recognise the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations.

REUTERS - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden pledged on Thursday Washington's full support for Georgia a year after its war with Russia and urged Moscow to abide by a ceasefire pact and pull its troops back from two rebel regions.

Biden called on the world not to follow Russia in recognising the rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, but told the Georgian parliament in a speech that there was no military option for winning them back.

Tensions between Russia and its former Soviet vassal are rising ahead of the first anniversary next month of their
five-day war. Hours earlier, Russia vowed to prevent its pro-Western neighbour from rearming and threatened nations who
helped it with weapons.

"We, the United States stand by you on your journey to a secure, free, democratic and once again united Georgia," Biden said to rapturous applause.

"We will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states and we urge the world not to recognise them as independent states," he said.

He called on Russia to honour its commitments under last year's ceasefire agreement, "including the withdrawal of all
forces to their pre-conflict positions and ultimately out of your territorial area."

A Kremlin source told Reuters that Moscow "did not see anything new in Mr. Biden's speech".

"During talks with President Obama, (Russian President) Dmitry Medvedev has outlined to him our approach to the problem and this approach remains unchanged," the source added.

Biden also balanced his support with a plea to Georgia to improve its democracy and to seek the right constitutional balance between its parliament and its presidency -- coded criticism of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Georgia is pushing for U.S. monitors and weapons to help defend itself against what it says is a threat from Russian troops stationed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, at their nearest point just 50 km (30 miles) from Tbilisi.

"We are a country under attack, under partial occupation," Saakashvili said before talks with Biden. "We decided to join the free world, Europe, the North Atlantic alliance (NATO)."

In a broadside issued as the meeting began, Russia said it would take "concrete measures" to prevent Georgia from rearming.

"We will continue to prevent the re-arming of Saakashvili's regime and will take concrete measures against this," Russia's ITAR-TASS agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin as saying in an interview.



Karasin also accused certain unnamed states of hiding military cooperation with Georgia "under the guise ofhumanitarian aid" -- an apparent reference to the United States, which has been sending Tbilisi humanitarian supplies.

Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria told Reuters Tbilisi was sticking to the terms of the ceasefire and a pledge not to use force. He added: "We are a sovereign country and as any other sovereign country we have the right to self-defence. No other country can interfere in our domestic choices."

Saakashvili also thanked President Barack Obama for telling Russia on a recent visit that Washington would not allow any big power to claim particular regions as special areas of influence.

"His (Obama's) talk about not allowing in today's world, in the 21st century, any spheres of influence, was music to our ears," Saakashvili said.

Analysts say it is unclear how far Obama is prepared to go in supporting Georgia without undermining cooperation with Moscow on a host of issues from arms control to the war in Afghanistan.

Biden, however, reassured the Georgians that any improvement in relations with Moscow "cannot and will not" come at the expense of Georgia.

In Phuket, where U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attending a regional security gathering, a State Department spokesman declined to comment directly on Karasin's remarks.

Georgia's NATO accession has been shelved for the foreseeable future in the wake of the war and amid unease among some European states about Saakashvili's unpredictability and chequered record on democracy.

Russia crushed a Georgian assault on the rebel pro-Russian region of South Ossetia in August last year, sending tanks into Georgia proper and then recognising the rebel territories.

Date created : 2009-07-23