Bush commissioned Gates to help Georgia

09:22, 14 August 2008
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Pentagon had begun a “vigorous and ongoing” humanitarian mission

 President Bush said Wednesday that the Pentagon had begun a “vigorous and ongoing” humanitarian mission to ease the suffering in Georgia, and that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would travel to France and then to Georgia to work for a settlement of the crisis.

The president, speaking at the White House with Ms. Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, criticized Russia and called on it to “keep its word and act to end this crisis.”

Mr. Bush said that a transport plane with medical supplies was already on its way to Georgia, and that American air and naval forces would carry out the aid mission. And he said pointedly that Russia must not interfere with aid arriving in Georgia by air, land or water.

But while Mr. Bush said the United States “stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia and insists that its sovereignty and territorial integrity be respected,” his remarks contained no hint of an American military role in Georgia, other than providing humanitarian assistance.

However, minutes after Mr. Bush’s comments, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia characterized the import of the American aid as “definitely an American military presence” and called it a “turning point.”

In a telephone interview, he said of Mr. Bush’s statement: “We were unhappy with the initial actions of the American officials, because they were perceived by the Russians as green lines basically. But this one was very strong.”

“What I expected specifically from America was to secure our airport and to secure our seaports,” he went on, concluding that the American presence would do so. “The main thing now is that the Georgian Tbilisi airport will be permanently under control.”

Mr. Bush said that Ms. Rice would confer with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who has been acting as an intermediary between Russia and Georgia, then go to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, to convey America’s “unwavering support for Georgia’s democratic government” and try to rally other European countries to that cause.

The president spoke as reports surfaced of Russian troop movements inside Georgia. Mr. Bush said he was particularly disturbed that Russian forces were in the central Georgian city of Gori and the port of Poti, in what appeared to be defiance of the cease-fire agreement.

Russia’s actions raise “serious questions about its intentions in Georgia and in the region,” Mr. Bush said. “Russia is putting its aspirations at risk,” he said.

David Stout reported from Washington, and C. J. Chivers from Tbilisi, Georgia, The New York Times.

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