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Bush says some progress in Georgia crisis

world Updated: Aug 17, 2008 18:54 IST

US President George W Bush, after meeting with his national security team, said on Saturday some progress has been made in resolving the Georgia crisis but Russia still needs to withdraw its troops.

Russia and Georgia signing a French-brokered peace plan was "a hopeful step," Bush said at his Texas ranch, where he was joined by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after her trip to France and Tbilisi.

"Now Russia needs to honor the agreement and withdraw its forces and of course end military operations," he said.

Bush and Rice had conferred with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and national security adviser Stephen Hadley through a video conference earlier in the day.

Russia defied US demands for an immediate pullout of its troops from Georgia, saying extra security arrangements were needed before a withdrawal could begin.

Rice said the additional security measures referred to a "very limited mandate" for Russian peacekeepers to have "limited patrols" within the zone of conflict until international monitors arrived.

She said French President Nicolas Sarkozy told her that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had assured him that Russian forces would begin to withdraw as soon as Georgia signed the agreement.

"From my point of view ... the Russians are perhaps already not honoring their word," Rice told reporters after Bush made his statement.

"I have to assume for now that the word of the president of Russia to the presidency of the EU is going to be respected."

The crisis began when Georgia sent forces to retake South Ossetia, a pro-Russian province that threw off Georgian rule in the 1990s. Moscow responded by sending troops into Georgia. Bush has made a series of public statements criticizing Russia's actions and sent the US military to deliver humanitarian aid into Georgia.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called the US president on Saturday to discuss the situation in his country and Bush "reiterated United States support for the government and people of Georgia," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

Bush said a major issue was Russia's contention that the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia might not be part of Georgia's future.

"But these regions are a part of Georgia, and the international community has repeatedly made clear that they will remain so," Bush said.

"There's no room for debate on this matter." Rice will go to Brussels next week to meet with NATO foreign ministers and European Union officials on the Georgia crisis.

Asked about possible repercussions for Russia, Rice said: "We'll take our time and look at further consequences for what Russia has done."

But she said there had already been consequences in the expression of "universal concern" on Russia's actions. "I think that Russia will care about this talk because it is not just talk, it is about Russia's standing in the international community," she said.