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Rice Delivers Cease-Fire Proposal To Georgia

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Tbilisi today holding talks with the president of Georgia and other officials there. She'll propose a new ceasefire agreement to end the conflict between Russia and Georgia.

This morning President Bush said the United States will not falter in its support for that country.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States and her allies stand with the people of Georgia and their democratically elected government. Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.

MONTAGNE: Russian troops continue to occupy several key Georgia towns, however, and columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles have been moving deeper into Georgian territory.

NPR's Ivan Watson is in the capital, Tbilisi, and joins us now to tell us more. And Ivan, what can you tell us about this ceasefire agreement.

IVAN WATSON: Well, Renee, it's a French-led initiative that Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, he shuttled between Tbilisi and Moscow to get both parties to agree to it in principle. And Condoleezza Rice is now coming from a meeting with Sarkozy in France to Georgia to present additional terms to the Georgians.

A copy of the draft has been floating around, and in it the agreement calls for a cessation of hostilities, free access to humanitarian aid. It says that the Georgian forces must withdraw to their bases. And as for the Russians, they're required to withdraw to the positions that they were in prior to the start of these hostilities.

And here it starts to get vague. It says that the Russian troops can continue to implement, quote, "additional security measures for six months." It's not really clear what that means. It also calls for opening international discussions on the future of Georgia's two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Those have basically been under the control of Russian-backed separatists since the early '90s and they have been completely occupied now by the Russian military.

MONTAGNE: And what has Georgia had to say about this?

WATSON: Last night, the Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, he told journalists he was being blackmailed into accepting a deal that he compared to the 1938 treaty of Munich which allowed Nazi Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia. I just talked to a top aide to the Georgian president, Renee, and he says that this cease-fire agreement demonstrates how weak the West is, how little leverage it has over Russia.

And he complains that the document doesn't have any mechanism in it to allow independent observers to verify that what Moscow is actually promising, what it is saying, is actually being carried out on the ground, especially here in the parts of Georgian territory that the Russian troops continue to occupy.

MONTAGNE: Well, it also suggests that Georgia doesn't have much, if any, leverage when it comes to the Russians.

WATSON: Not at all, Renee. Basically Georgia is pretty powerless right now. The reality on the ground is that its military has been defeated. Russian troops currently occupy at least four major Georgian towns. They continue to destroy and dismantle the remnants of Georgian military and police installations.

And large columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles continue to move freely deeper into Georgian territory. And when they do that, it periodically spreads panic and fear here in Tbilisi with people fearing that they may try to move into the Georgian capital.

This country's cut in two by the Russians, who have occupied the main artery that links this country. In the meantime we have militias that have come in on the backs of the Russian troops and they're moving into areas that the Russians have occupied, and they're going house-to-house looting and stealing cars and torching homes. And in some cases, according to refugees I've talked to, killing Georgians.

As a top Georgian official here put it, the only leverage that the government really has right now is its relationship with the West and the media. And he says that is what Georgia's been reduced to. Basically right not Russia can dictate the terms, because if Moscow chooses to, it can easily send troops rolling right in here into the Georgian capital any time.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ivan Watson speaking to us from Tbilisi, Georgia. Thank you very much.

WATSON: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Ivan Watson
Ivan Watson is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he has served as one of NPR's foreign "firemen," shuttling to and from hotspots around the Middle East and Central Asia.