- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CRAWFORD, Texas | President Bush is dispatching Vice President Dick Cheney to Georgia, the White House announced Monday, the latest burst of political support for an ally reeling from war with Russia.

In Moscow, Russian lawmakers passed a resolution urging the Kremlin to recognize the independence of two separatist Georgian regions - a step Washington said “would be unacceptable.”

Mr. Cheney is heading abroad Sept. 2 for stops in three former Soviet Republics - Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine - plus Italy.

“The vice president will be delivering the word of America’s support,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in Crawford, where Mr. Bush is on vacation at his ranch.

The vice president is the top-ranking U.S. official to visit Georgia since war erupted Aug. 7.

Even before the hostilities began, Mr. Cheney’s trip to Italy, Georgia and Azerbaijan was in the works. He will talk in Georgia with President Mikhail Saakashvili, and will meet with the respective presidents of the other countries he is visiting.

The vice president has no plans to visit Russia and speak directly with leaders there.

Mr. Cheney’s trip is the latest in a flurry of activity, including an earlier Georgia trip by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that is meant to signal a strong U.S. position.

The White House also announced Monday that the U.S. is sending an interagency delegation to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, to assess the country’s vast reconstruction needs.

Catching much of the world off guard, war erupted this month as Georgia launched an artillery barrage targeting the separatist province of South Ossetia. Russian forces repelled the offensive and responded with tremendous force, attacking deep into Georgia.

Russia’s parliament voted Monday to urge the country’s president to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway region.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev did not immediately respond to the unanimous votes in both houses of Russia’s parliament, but he has said Moscow would support whatever choice the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia make about their future status.

Western countries warned Moscow that recognizing the breakaway regions of Georgia, an allied nation pressing for NATO membership, would prompt international denunciation.

“Russia needs to respect the territorial integrity of Georgia,” said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

Mr. Fratto said the status of the two regions is “not a matter for any one country to decide,” but rather a topic for negotiation among the parties through the United Nations.

Russia pulled the bulk of its troops and tanks out of Georgia on Friday under a cease-fire brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, but built up its forces in and around South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It also left military posts inside Georgia.

“There’s no question that Russia hasn’t lived up to the cease-fire agreement,” Mr. Fratto said, a point Russia fiercely disputes. The White House says the presence of large numbers of Russian troops and checkpoints are signs that Russia remains in violation of the agreement.

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