US to Urge Georgia Russia Rapprochement During Saakashvili Visit

WASHINGTON (AFP)–US Secretary of State Colin Powell and other top US officials are to press Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili this week for an easing in Georgia-Russian tensions–now inflamed over two separatist regions in the former Soviet republic–the State Department said.

Powell will raise the issues of Abkhazia and South Ossetia when he meets with Saakashvili on Thursday–spokesman Richard Boucher said. The president–who is on a private trip to the United States–will also see officials from the US National Security Council and the Pentagon.

"The Georgians and the Russia’s have had meetings and discussions about it–and we have certainly encouraged them all to try to work this out and reach arrangemen’s that avoid raising tensions and avoid potential clashes between them," Boucher told reporters.

Boucher spoke as the two countries appeared on war footing after Russia hinted it could resort to military action in response to a Tbilisi threat to open fire on vessels that "illegally" entered the Black Sea waters of Abkhazia and a top Russian lawmaker said he was shot at by Georgian troops while visiting South Ossetia.

Russia’s defense minister said Georgia’s leaders were turning into "pirates" while the foreign ministry in Moscow described Saakashvili’s policies were "unprecedented" and warned of a looming war.

The 36-year-old US-educated Saakashvili has vowed to reunify his fractured republic since toppling the old administration in a peaceful "rose revolution" last year and has taken a dim of view of Russian involvement in his impoverished nation.

He is coming to the United States to attend the annual convention of the American Bar Association in the US state of Georgia during which he will be awarded the group’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative Award for promoting the rule of law in his country.

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