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Bush Says Russia Must Respect Neighbors' Sovereignty

U.S. President George W. Bush
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has warned that Moscow would not gain the trust of the international community unless it agrees to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Bush reaffirmed U.S. support for Georgia's territorial integrity following its August war with Moscow and expressed support for other countries concerned about Russian aggression.

Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian forces erupted into war in August when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake pro-Russian South Ossetia, which broke away from Tbilisi in 1991-92.

Russia's counterstrike drove the Georgian Army out of South Ossetia. Moscow's troops then pushed farther into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further Georgian attacks. The West accused Russia of a "disproportionate response" to Georgia's actions.

"We firmly support Georgia's democracy and sovereignty and territorial integrity," Bush said. "The United States and the EU agree that the territory of Georgia includes the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"To earn the respect of the international community, Russia must show respect for the sovereignty and territory of its neighbors. Russia must accept the responsibilities and obligations of international leadership," he said.

Bush said Italy and the United States were taking action to meet the humanitarian needs of Georgians who were displaced by the fighting and to help them return to their homes.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as leader of the European Union, negotiated a cease-fire between Russia and Georgia that called for withdrawal of Russian forces to their positions before the conflict. Moscow had troops in South Ossetia as peacekeepers before the war and has maintained them since.

The cease-fire agreement did not address the long-term status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow has recognized the separatist provinces as independent and has vowed to protect them, while Tbilisi insists Russia must withdraw its forces from the regions.

International talks on the future of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are due to begin in Geneva on October 15.