President Bush said Saturday the outbreak of fighting in the Georgia republic of South Ossetia is endangering peace throughout the volatile region and he urged an end to the violence. “I’m deeply concerned about the situation in Georgia,” Bush said in a statement to reporters while attending the Olympic Games in Beijing. “The attacks are occurring in regions of Georgia far from the zone of conflict in South Ossetia. They mark a dangerous escalation in the crisis. “The violence is endangering regional peace, civilian lives have been lost and others are endangered. We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops. We call for an end to the Russian bombings, and a return by the parties to the status quo of Aug. 6.”
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush had spoken very recently with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and “reiterated the United States position to both leaders.”
Georgia, a U.S. ally, launched a massive offensive Friday to regain control over the breakaway province which has close ties with Russia, and Moscow responded by sending in armored convoys and bombers. Georgia also accused Russia of bombing its towns, ports and air bases and asked the international community to help end what it called Russian aggression.
The fighting reportedly has left more than 1,500 people dead. Both countries claimed control of the South Ossetia capital Saturday.
Bush said U.S. officials have been in contact with leaders in both Georgia and Russia at all levels of government. He added that Georgia’s territorial integrity must be respected.
The United States is working with its European allies to launch international mediation, and working with all sides in the conflict to restart their dialogue, he said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called the parties involved in hopes of ending the fighting and made plans to send a U.S. envoy to the region.
Bush also said he and wife Laura were saddened by the attack Saturday on an American family and their Chinese tour guide Saturday in Beijing.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, and the United States government has offered to provide any assistance the family needs,” he said.
A Chinese man with a knife attacked two relatives of a coach for the U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team at a tourist site in Beijing, killing one and injuring the other on the first day of the Olympics, team officials and state media said.