“In recent days, U.S. cargo planes carrying humanitarian supplies have arrived in Georgia. In the days ahead, we will continue using U.S. aircraft and other assets as needed to deliver more humanitarian and medical supplies,” Bush said today in his weekly radio address.
As the humanitarian mission proceeds, Russia must honor its commitment to keep open all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, airports, roads, and airspace for civilian transit and the delivery of humanitarian assistance, the president added.
Bush, at his family ranch in Crawford, Texas, received briefings today from both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is overseeing the humanitarian mission, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice traveled to Crawford to discuss her recent diplomatic jaunt to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, where she met with President Mikheil Saakashvili and his team.
During Rice’s trip, Saakashvili and Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev signed a six-point peace plan, which, in separate remarks there this morning, Bush hailed as an important development and a hopeful step.
“Now Russia needs to honor the agreement and withdraw its forces and, of course, end military operations,” he said in Crawford.
Rice soon will travel to Brussels, Belgium, where she will meet with the foreign ministers of America’s NATO allies and European Union officials to “continue to rally the free world in the defense of a free Georgia,” the president said.
Fighting that began in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia last week broadened to include Russian attacks on other parts of the country, including Abkhazia, another heavily separatist region. Russia contends that the heavily pro-Moscow breakaway regions may not belong within Georgia’s borders in the future, a stance that Bush characterized as “a major issue.”
“These regions are a part of Georgia, and the international community has repeatedly made clear that they will remain so,” Bush said. “Georgia is a member of the United Nations, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia lie within its internationally recognized borders.
“Georgia’s borders should command the same respect as every other nation’s,” he said.
The situation already was tense when Russian tanks and troops on Aug. 8 crossed the border into South Ossetia, where they were aided by regional separatists. Clashes escalated a day later in and around Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s capital, as Russian aircraft were reported to have bombed that city and mounted attacks later in Abkhazia and other Georgian areas, fueling fears that Moscow would attempt to depose the democratically elected government in Tblisi.
“We will continue to stand behind Georgia’s democracy,” Bush said. “We will continue to insist that Georgia’s sovereignty and independence and territorial integrity be respected.”