The Bush administration on Tuesday called on Russia to adopt a cease-fire in the former Soviet bloc country of Georgia, continuing to cast doubt on Russian claims that they have stopped military operations.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to reporters at the White House after briefing President Bush around 1 p.m. on her conversations with foreign ministers from major European powers.
“It is very important now that all parties now cease fire,” Rice said. “The Georgians have agreed to a cease-fire. The Russians need to stop their military operations, as they have apparently said that they will, but those military operations really do now need to stop.”
Rice also made a strong statement of support for Georgia’s claims to two disputed regions on the border with Russia, which is where fighting originally broke out on Thursday night.
“I want to make very clear that the United States stands for the territorial integrity of Georgia, for the sovereignty of Georgia,” she said.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has said his army has stopped its attacks on Georgian targets, but earlier on Tuesday morning White House spokesman Tony Fratto expressed uncertainty about the authenticity of that claim, which has been disputed by the Georgians.
“We’re trying to get an assessment of … what a halt means and whether it’s taken place,” he said.
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley had planned to brief reporters at 11 a.m., but the White House announced at 10:30 that the briefing would be postponed, “due to ongoing developments in Georgia.”
As the White House announcement postponing the briefing came over a loudspeaker, reporters watched a press conference live from Moscow with Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was in the Russian capital to press for a peaceful resolution to fighting that has caused at least 2,000 deaths.
Medvedev said Tuesday that after five days of fighting, he had “taken the decision to end the operation to force Georgian authorities into peace.”
But Georgia says that Russian planes are continuing bombing runs, and Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the Russian general staff, said that “if we have received the order to cease fire, this does not mean that we have stopped all actions, including reconnaissance.”
Medvedev and Sarkozy announced an official cease-fire agreement.
Medvedev also defended Russia’s decision to send ground troops far into Georgian territory, after driving Georgian troops out of the disputed region called South Ossetia.
“We had no other option. When a few thousand citizens are killed, a state has to react adequately,” Medvedev said.
Sarkozy, who is also the current chairman of the European Union, gave assurances that “the Russians have no intentions of staying in Georgia.”
Bush has been working the phones since his return flight from Beijing Monday.
He was briefed Tuesday morning by Hadley at the White House and by Rice on the phone.
The president Tuesday morning called Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On Monday, he made calls from Air Force One to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Lithuania President Valdus Adamkus, and Polish President Lech Kadczynski.
After making a statement at the White House upon his return Monday evening, Bush spoke by phone with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called on Saakashvili to resign, but the White House has maintained that the Georgian leader is democratically elected.
“It’s a decision for the Georgian people and it’s not for any outside nation to make demands on whether he is the appropriate person to be in that job,” Fratto said.