Rumsfeld stresses strong US relations with Georgia

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stressed Washington's good relations with Georgia at a meeting Friday with the president of the nation whose drive for closer ties with the West has upset neighboring Russia.

Asked about Georgia's deteriorating relations with Moscow, Rumsfeld said, "I think we should concentrate on Georgian-U.S. relations and they are very strong and very good."

Rumsfeld met President Mikhail Saakashvili before an international security conference in Munich which was also attended by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Earlier, Saakashvili's office said his country will pull out of a group intended to expand military ties among ex-Soviet nations, saying it conflicted with Georgia's goal of joining NATO by 2008.

The move is a signal of escalating tensions between his country and Russia, whose troops engaged in fist fights this week near Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia, which has close ties to Moscow.

In his speech to the annual three-day conference later Friday, Saakashvili urged Western nations to join Georgia and Ukraine to develop a network of oil and gas supplies from the Caspian Sea region and Central Asia.

Although he did not mention Russia by name, his suggestion was aimed at reducing energy reliance on gas supplies from Georgia's northern neighbor. Saakashvili has said mysterious explosions on the Russian pipeline network that cut off fuel supplies to Georgia last month were a deliberate attempt to destabilize the ex-Soviet republic and push it into Russia's hands, reports AP.


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