Putin Criticizes U.S. For Flying Georgian Soldiers Back from Iraq
With conditions deteriorating despite similar repeated calls, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her colleagues from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations pledged their support for a negotiated solution to the conflict that has been raging since Friday between the former Soviet republic and Russia, the State Department said.
"We want to see the Russians stand down," deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters. "What we're calling on is for Russia to stop its aggression."
President Bush has criticized the violence, calling it unacceptable and that Russia's response was disproportionate. Bush planned to make a statement about Georgia on Monday evening at the White House, shortly after arriving back in Washington from Beijing where he was attending the Olympics, the White House said.
Ahead of that, Rice and the foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan spoke in a conference call, during which they noted that Georgia had agreed to a cease-fire and wanted to see Russia sign on immediately, he said, adding that the call was one of more than 90 that Rice has made on the matter since Friday.
They called on Russia to respect Georgia's borders and expressed deep concern for civilian casualties that have occurred and noted that Georgia had agreed to a cease-fire and said the ministers wanted to see Russia sign on immediately as urgent consultations at the United Nations and NATO were expected, according to Wood.
The seven ministers also backed a nascent mediation efforts led by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, and Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, whose country now holds the chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, he said.
The Group of Seven, or G7, is often expanded into what is known as the G8, a grouping that includes Russia, but Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was notably not included in the call.
Wood said the United States was hopeful that the U.N. Security Council would pass a "strong" resolution on the fighting that called for an end to attacks on both sides as well as mediation but prospects for such a statement were dim given that Russia wields a veto on the 15-member body.
A U.S. senior U.S. diplomat, Matthew Bryza, is now in Tbilisi and working with Georgian and European officials there on ways to calm the situation. Bryza plans to stay in Georgia for several days and doesn't plan to travel elsewhere, according to Wood.
Meanwhile, the State Department said it has evacuated more than 170 American citizens from Georgia. Wood said two convoys carrying about 170 private U.S. citizens along with a number of family members of U.S. diplomats based in Georgia left Tbilisi on Sunday and Monday for neighboring Armenia.
The U.S. Embassy in Georgia has distributed an initial contribution of $250,000 in humanitarian relief to victims of the fighting and is providing emergency equipment to people in need, although those supplies will run out later Monday, the department said.
The developments came as swarms of Russian jets launched new raids on Georgian territory outside the initial conflict point of South Ossetia and Georgia faced the threat of a second front of fighting with Russia demanding that it disarm troops near the breakaway province of Abkhazia.
The Pentagon said it had finished flying some 2,000 Georgian troops back home from Iraq on C-17 aircraft at Georgia's request.
It said it had informed the Russians about the flights before they began in order to avoid any mishaps, but Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin harshly criticized the step, saying it would hamper efforts to resolve the situation by reinforcing Georgian assets in a "conflict zone."
Wood rejected the criticism, saying: "We're not assisting in any conflict."
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said the U.S. flew the Georgians out of Iraq as part of a prior agreement that transport would be provided in case of an emergency.
Pentagon officials said Monday that U.S. military was assessing the fighting every day to determine whether less than 100 U.S. trainers should be pulled out of the country.
There had been about 130 trainers, including a few dozen civilian contractors, but the civilians had been scheduled to rotate out of the country and did so over the weekend, Whitman said. The remaining uniformed trainers were moved over the weekend to what officials believe is a safer location, he said.
Whitman said Defense Secretary Robert Gates had spoken in the last few days to both his Georgian and Russian counterparts, but he declined to say what they discussed. He said Gates also spoke twice to Georgia's president both times about U.S. help in getting the Georgian troops back to their country.
The conflict began there on Thursday when Georgia tried to regain control of the breakaway region. The United States recognizes it as part of Georgia but it has been under de facto Russian control for years.
Associated Press Writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.