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U.S. Urges Russia Not To Recognize Georgian Regions

WASHINGTON -- The United States has urged Russia not to recognize two rebel regions of Georgia as independent states and complained that Moscow still was not honoring a cease-fire by keeping its troops in Georgia.

President George W. Bush asked Vice President Dick Cheney to go to Georgia in early September to help shore up the small but vital U.S. ally, the White House said. Cheney will also visit Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Italy on the trip.

Russia and Georgia, which hosts two major energy pipelines, fought a brief war this month over one of the separatist regions, South Ossetia. On August 25, the Russian parliament approved nonbinding measures calling on the Kremlin to recognize South Ossetia and the other rebel region, Abkhazia.

"To us that would be unacceptable," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. "Russia needs to respect the territorial independence and sovereignty of Georgia."

Russia was "well aware" of the U.S. position on the separatist regions, he said, adding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "at least once" in the last 10 days.

The White House said independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia could not be determined by Russia. "The status of those two regions in Georgia are not a matter for any one country to decide, they're a matter for the international community through the mechanisms at the United Nations," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Russia had supported that position in the past, Fratto told reporters in Texas, where Bush was staying at his ranch.

The war in Georgia, a former Soviet state with a pro-Western president, began after Tbilisi sent troops to try to retake South Ossetia, provoking a massive counterattack by Moscow. Russian troops then pushed into Georgia proper, where some of them remain.

Moscow has withdrawn most of its forces from central and western Georgia and says those still in place are peacekeepers needed to avert bloodshed and protect the breakaway regions.

But Georgia and Western governments object to the scale of the Russian-imposed buffer zone adjoining the two rebel regions, which hands Moscow pressure points on key oil and trade routes through Georgia to the Black Sea.

"There continues to be a large presence of Russian forces in Georgia," U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters. "It's fair to say that they are still not living up to the terms of the cease-fire agreement."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the truce, last week urged Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to order his forces out of the port of Poti, where they are still manning checkpoints.

Wood said that as monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe arrive in Georgia, this should "obviate" any need for Russian troops. He said the first group of monitors, including two Americans, were in the process of "getting on the ground."

Nuclear Deal

Wood said the Bush administration was considering what to do about a recently signed deal on civilian nuclear cooperation with Moscow that the president sent to Congress earlier this year.

The Bush administration had not withdrawn the pact, Wood said. But he added that "we are looking at a number of things we might do" in response to Russian "aggression" in Georgia.

In Moscow, a Russian nuclear official said the Bush administration should withdraw the accord to prevent it being blocked by the current Congress. Key U.S. lawmakers have cast doubt on the pact's prospects after the war in Georgia.

Senator Joe Biden (Delaware), Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's running mate and head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said recently that Russia's actions had "erased" the possibility of legislative efforts to promote the nuclear deal.

The pact is required under U.S. law before countries can cooperate on nuclear materials, such as storing spent fuel or working together on advanced reactor programs.

It goes into force later this year unless Congress votes to block it -- or adjourns for the year before lawmakers have had 90 legislative days to review it.