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Rumsfeld Visits Georgia, Affirms U.S. Wish That Russia Honor Istanbul Accords

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

TBILISI, Georgia, Dec. 5, 2003 – With mounting concern in this former Soviet republic over Russia's behavior in the region and a new interim government still finding its feet, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld toured a U.S.- sponsored military training facility and met with key leaders here today.

Since growing but peaceful demonstrations forced the Nov. 23 resignation of former President Eduard Shevardnadze, Nino Burdzhanadze has served as acting president. She met with Rumsfeld along with acting State Minister Zurab Zhvania, acting National Security Adviser Tedo Japaridze, and Tbilisi city council president Mikhail Saakashvili, who led the opposition to Shevardnadze and is a leading candidate in the presidential election set for Jan. 4. Burdzhanadze is not a candidate in the election.

In a joint press conference with Burdzhanadze after the meeting at the presidential palace here, Rumsfeld said the United States agrees with Georgia that Russia needs to live up to its obligations under the so-called Istanbul Accords of 1999 to withdraw its forces from Georgia, except for a 2,500- to 3,000-member peacekeeping force in a troubled region of the country.

"As I recall, Russia agreed to the Istanbul Accords, which suggests to me there was unanimity on the subject, and that would suggest to me that it was probably a pretty good idea," Rumsfeld said.

Calling Georgia a "staunch friend of the West," Rumsfeld said the United States appreciates the country's help with Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, where the republic has a special operations forces contingent in the coalition. He also noted Georgia's participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace Program and expressed delight in the interim government's reaffirmation of that participation.

"NATO, of course, is an alliance of democracies," he said, "so we look toward the political, the economic as well as the military reforms that are the kinds of things that will move Georgia's approach more closely to those of the democracies of the West."

Burdzhanadze expressed thanks to the United States for the assistance it has provided to Georgia, and said her government is proceeding with the development of democratization and also is moving forward on the reforms "which are necessary for the normal development of our country."

Both Rumsfeld and Burdzhanadze praised the success of a military cooperation effort called "Georgia Train and Equip," or GTEP. In the two-year, $64 million program, U.S. special operations forces at first and later U.S. Marines have trained four battalions of infantry soldiers in Georgia. Rumsfeld visited the GTEP complex earlier in the day, meeting the Marines, soldiers and lone sailor assigned to the special training unit. The program began as an effort to give Georgia the wherewithal to deal with terrorists within the country's borders, and it's slated to conclude in May.

Burdzhanadze expressed the hope GTEP will continue in the future. Rumsfeld noted that while GTEP soon will end in its current form, the United States has an agreement to train a mechanized unit for Georgia, and that he anticipates continuation of military-to-military cooperation programs between the two countries.

Rumsfeld left Azerbaijan this morning, intending to meet with Uzbekistan leaders in that country's capital of Tashkent before going to Georgia. But after circling in a holding pattern for about an hour after the scheduled landing, the secretary's aircraft headed to Georgia when a persistent fog at Tashkent failed to lift.

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