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US Officials See Difficult Period in US-Russia Relations

By Dan Robinson, VOA, Capitol Hill

Lawmakers on the House and Senate foreign affairs committees closely questioned U.S. officials Tuesday about future relations with Russia in the wake of the war between Russia and Georgia. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, the United States is carefully reviewing how to help Georgia rebuild its military with a package of economic aid to Georgia already pledged.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried says it is in U.S. interests to help Georgia recover economically, stabilize and restore its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and address what he called "legitimate military needs".

With a $1 billion economic aid package pledged by Washington, he said the United States is working with NATO and is sending a Defense Department team to Georgia to help determine what form appropriate military assistance would take.

"We are going to make a careful assessment of Georgia's needs," said Daniel Fried. "We are going to think about what the appropriate response is to those needs, and we will be discussing that on a separate track."

Fried and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Eric Edelman used strong language in characterizing the challenges ahead in U.S.-Russian relations.

Russia must be prevented from drawing a new line in Europe, said Fried, while Edelman asserted that Moscow's relations with Washington, and the world, have reached a crossroads, adding that Russia must decide how it wants to be seen by the world.

"The international community has resolutely rejected Russian aggression," said Eric Edelman. "Russia's future actions, including those it takes in the coming weeks and months in Georgia, will continue to define how it is viewed in the world and how the world defines and moves forward with Russia. We hope that on sober reflection Russia will choose a different path, but our policy will respond appropriately to Russian actions."

Democratic Representative Howard Berman, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asked these questions about a potential military aid package:

"Will it be basic replenishment of armaments damaged in the recent conflict? Will it allow Georgia the ability to participate in foreign missions such as Iraq, or will it provide the capacity for self-defense in case of future attacks? Given the asymmetrical nature of the Russian and Georgian forces, just what kind of arms could possibly give Tiblisi the ability to defend itself from future incursions?," asked Congressman Berman.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Democrat Carl Levin, says American officials must determine where U.S-Russia relations go in light of Russian military assertiveness in Georgia.

"What is the right balance to strike in terms between signaling to Russia that its claims of a sphere of influence which override the sovereignty of its neighbors are unacceptable, while keeping the door open to Russian integration into the broader international community, and working with Russia in areas where our strategic interests are aligned, such as preventing a nuclear Iran, or [in] counter-terrorism efforts?," asked Senator Levin.

Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says Georgia's future and that of the entire region depends on how the United States and members of the European Union react in coming months.

"Will there be claims that parts of Ukraine rightfully belong in Russia? Will there be pressure on the Baltic states, where so many ethnic Russians live? Will northern Kazakhstan and its large population of ethnic Russians become an issue? Will Russian troops ever leave the independent country of Moldova which has sought their withdrawal for many years," said Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen.

But other members of congress pointed to Georgian actions in South Ossetia that played a role in provoking a strong Russian military response in Georgia.

In the House of Representatives, Republican Dana Rohrabacher and Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee say the U.S. must preserve its ability to work with Russia.

Rohrabacher: "We have been just pushing the Russians and pushing the Russians, making them into an enemy when they at first wanted to be friends."

Lee: "Our friends in Russia are as important as our friends in Georgia. We must find a balance. We can sit here and accuse. Yes, I believe that Georgia was aggressive. At the same time, Russia is huge and growing. Let us find a way to create peace and opportunity."

Assistant Secretary Fried told lawmakers on Tuesday that while the United States does not seek a bad relationship with Russia, in his words, "Until Russia's leaders change their path the two countries may be in for a difficult period."

US Vice President Slams Russia, Warns About Iran

By Sabina Castelfranco, Rome

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney deplored Russia's military action in Georgia and said Tiblisi has every right to join NATO in the future. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome that Cheney spoke after a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

On the fourth and final day of a visit to Italy, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney held talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome and discussed the Russia-Georgia crisis. Cheney traveled to Italy, a staunch U.S. ally, after visiting Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

He made clear that Russia could not behave as it pleased with Georgia.

"The international community is united in deploring Russia's military action and condemning its unilateral efforts to alter by force of arms Georgia's internationally recognized boundaries," said Cheney.

Cheney added that NATO allies agree that both Georgia and Ukraine have every right to strengthen their ties with the West and join the alliance. He also said that Russia's western border has never been safer than it is today because of the success in building democracies across Europe.

The two leaders also discussed Iran.

"We agreed that Iran must not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. We discussed international efforts to convince the regime to comply with its obligations under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring it to stop enriching uranium and to reveal the full scope of its nuclear activities," Cheney said.

Cheney said the U.S. and Italian governments continue to work closely to enhance their economic relationship. The vice president leaves Italy on Wednesday. The Italian prime minister accepted his invitation to join him and the President Bush on Columbus Day in the United States.

... Payvand News - 09/10/08 ... --

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