| Los Angeles Times
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in the capital of this small, beleaguered country on Friday to call for an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops that remained 25 miles away and in control of a key town and highway, and to show Washington’s support for the Georgian government. Rice met with Georgian President Mikhael Saakashvili and his government for nearly five hours about potential U.S. and international economic aid for the country. “Russia needs to leave Georgia at once,” Rice said during a news conference. “This is no longer 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, when a great power invaded a small neighbor and overthrew its government.”
Saakashvili, speaking alongside Rice outside the presidential palace, announced that he signed a six-point cease-fire plan endorsed by France that he and the Kremlin had orally agreed to early Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, today we are looking evil in the eye,” he said. “And this evil is very strong, very nasty and very dangerousfor all of us.”
In his strongest declaration of support for Georgia, President Bush declared that America would stand by the Georgian people and that the staunch American ally’s territorial integrity must be respected after last week’s eruption of violence, The Associated Press reported. “We will not cast them aside,” he said in Washington.
But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at virtually the same time, said the separatist Georgian regions at the center of the conflict appear destined for independence, according to AP.
“After what happened, it’s unlikely Ossetians and Abkhazians will ever be able to live together with Georgia in one state,” he said in a joint news conference in the Russian resort of Sochi with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Hostilities broke out last week when Georgia defied Russia by launching an attack in South Ossetia. Despite tough talk, Georgia, the U.S. and Europe have limited options when it comes to pressing Russia to remove its troops and prevent its actions toward its smaller neighbor. Rice said international monitors could arrive in Georgia “within days” as a prelude to a possible multinational peacekeeping force. European and Georgian officials on the sidelines of the news conference said no details had been spelled out.
The peace agreement calls for Russian and Georgian troops to return to their positions before the conflict began late last week. Georgians were heartened by news of U.S.-backed economic support.
The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch announced Friday that Russian warplanes dropped cluster bombs on towns in Georgia. The weapons, which disperse tiny bombs that sometimes fail to explode, are notoriously dangerous to civilians and take years to clear. Russian officials denied the charge.