Rumsfeld, in Tbilisi visit, says US will continue arms aid to Georgia

'We are looking at future possibilities of military cooperation with Georgia and are intent on assisting her in carrying out the reform of her military,' US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday at a briefing here. He emphasized the United States' adherence to the principle of the territorial integrity of Georgia, 'like other states.' When asked whether the US was planning to increase its military presence in Georgia, Rumsfeld asserted that no measures of the kind are planned. 'The challenges of the 21st century are different from those of the 20th century, and we are trying to create effective quick-reaction forces. The US has, at this time, made no specific recommendations for the strengthening of this region's security,' he stated firmly.

At the same time, Rumsfeld revealed that the US is continuing to provide Georgia with military assistance. Specifically, the US will continue its 'Training and Supply' program. The US has already spent USD 64 million in this effort and, by year's end, will have trained 2,750 commandos for Georgia. The US Defense Department and Georgia's Defense Ministry have reached agreement on the specifics of military aid, Rumsfeld said, but he would not specify what sort of assistance or at what cost. Acting Georgian President Nino Burdzhanadze then noted the US was very satisfied with the operation of this program in Georgia.

When asked for the US reaction to stories alleging Russian aid to separatist regions of Georgia, Rumsfeld did not answer directly. He simply underlined again that Georgia's territorial integrity is inviolable. Rumsfeld noted that both George Bush and Colin Powell have frequently called on Russia to observe the Istanbul agreements and remove its military bases from Georgian territory. 'This should have been done long ago,' he said firmly.

Burdzhanadze gave a more definite answer to the question of Russia's role in Georgia's internal political crisis. 'We appreciate Vladimir Putin's frequent assertions of unquestionable support for the principle of Georgia's territorial integrity. But there are significant forces in Russia that support the separatist regions. This complicates the country's situation. Without such support, the conflicts with Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia would already have been resolved,' she stated.

During his visit to Georgia, Rumsfeld met with Burdzhanadze, State Minister Zurab Zvaniya, Defense Minister David Tevzadze, Foreign Minister Tedo Dzhaparidze, Acting Chairman of the National Security Council Dzhamal Gakhokidze and the leader of the National Movement of Georgia and presidential candidate Mikhail Saakashvili.

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