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U.S. To Provide $1 Billion In Economic Aid To Georgia

A Georgian bridge destroyed by Russian forces
The United States has announced that it will be provide at least $1 billion in economic aid to Georgia, following the devastation wrought last month by its conflict with Russia.

In announcing the aid package, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the administration of President George W. Bush will spend more than half of the $1 billion total in the nearly five months remaining before the next president takes over.

Rice said Bush expects that the next administration will continue the spending after it takes over in January.

"Working closely with Congress, our administration plans to make available up to $570 million of this billion-dollar program in a first phase by the end of 2008," Rice said. "We are also confident that the United States will keep a commitment that has strong bipartisan support for a second phase of support -- an additional $430 million."

The aid package reportedly was put together based on an assessment of Georgia's needs by a senior U.S. diplomat sent to the region. The diplomat, Reuben Jeffrey, is said to have made estimates of the damage to the country's roads, rail lines, and overall economy by Russian military aircraft, tanks, and troops.

Broad International Package

Rice said the aid is in addition to any assistance that Washington has approved so far. The United States already has sent two naval vessels carrying assistance to Georgia, and a third is on its way.

Rice said the U.S. financial support is expected to be only part of a broader international aid package, and said the administration is pleased that Tbilisi is working closely with the International Monetary Fund to develop what she called an "essential" program to shore up the Georgian economy after the Russian invasion.

And she said Washington will look for ways to generate even more support for Georgia from Europe.

"We will also continue to work closely with our partners in the European Union. The EU has offered to host an international donors conference, and the United States looks forward to bringing this $1 billion assistance package to that event, and to being a part of other international efforts to coordinate donor support for Georgia," she said.

After her remarks, Rice was asked if the United States plans any military aid to Georgia. She said this isn't yet the time to consider military aid, suggesting that such assistance may come eventually.

'Can't Have It Both Ways'

Asked if Washington plans any punitive action against Russia, Rice said Russia has punished itself because Georgia survived last month's invasion, and its economy remains strong, if in need of some assistance.

Rice said Russia "can't have it both ways" by acting the way the Soviet Union did during the Cold War and yet, in the 21st century, expect integration into the world community.

Rice said it's time Russia met its obligations to withdraw fully from Georgia under the terms of the cease-fire that its president, Dmitry Medvedev, signed three weeks ago.

"I think, frankly, Russia's done itself in on this, because, yes, it's demonstrated it can use its military force, regional military capabilities, against a small neighbor," Rice said, "But in doing so, it has called into question its own responsibility and its own responsible behavior -- it's ability for responsible behavior -- and it's certainly gotten not many takers for its unfortunate decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia."