U.S. diplomat says Georgia and Russia should work to resolve conflict

A top U.S. diplomat said Friday that Georgia and Russia should work together to resolve their conflict over the presence of Russian troops on Georgian soil and Georgia's arrest of Russian military personnel on suspicion of espionage.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew J. Bryza spoke after Georgia on Wednesday arrested five Russian officers on spying charges pushing already strained relations between the neighboring former Soviet republics to a new low.

The arrests prompted Moscow to recall its ambassador and diplomats from Georgia, and to complain to the United Nations.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili last week accused Russia of a "gangster occupation" of Georgian soil, and accused Russian peacekeeping troops of fomenting conflict in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Georgian officials want Russian peacekeepers out of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where they favor international contingents.

"Georgia has expressed its sovereign view ... that it doesn't want Russian peacekeepers on its territory," Bryza told journalists in Berlin. "There is a question of what is prudent, and what is the most effective way of asserting that right in the case of Tbilisi."

The U.S. official was in Berlin for diplomatic consultations with Germany, Russia, Britain and France over the situation in Abkhazia.

He said Russia and Georgia should decide on ways to either replace or complement the Russian peacekeepers, in order to meet Georgia's desire for more of an international presence in Abkhazia without creating a security vacuum, reports AP.

"We would argue that the best way is to talk things through ... to avoid escalation, avoid tension wherever possible," the U.S. official said.

Regarding the arrests on espionage charges, Bryza said the "Georgians and Russians should find a way to work this out together, follow due process and normal procedures that ought to be used in this situation."