WASHINGTON (AP) — President George W. Bush said Wednesday he is skeptical that Moscow is honoring a cease-fire in neighboring Georgia. He demanded that Russia end all military activities in the former Soviet republic and withdraw all its forces.
Bush said he was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Paris, where French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads the European Union, then to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi to express solidarity with the elected government there.
"The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia and insists that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," Bush said sternly, during brief remarks in the White House Rose Garden.
GEORGIA CRISIS: Russian troops break truce
He also announced that a massive U.S. humanitarian effort already was in progress and would involve U.S. aircraft as well as naval forces. A U.S. C-17 military cargo plane, loaded with supplies, already is on the way, and Bush said that Russia must ensure that "all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and airports," remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.
"To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe and other nations, and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis," Bush said.
The president spoke amid a fast-moving chain of events as Rice canceled a planned news conference and the White House scrubbed its regular morning briefing for reporters. Despite extensive intelligence resources and deep ties to the Georgian military that U.S. soldiers have trained, the Bush administration has struggled to determine whether Russia is pushing deeper into Georgia and threatening Tbilisi.
Neither the president nor his Cabinet has answered questions on the record about the 6-day-old crisis except for remarks that Bush made in a television interview on the sidelines of the Olympic Games in Beijing.
Bush spent the morning meeting with his national security team in the White House Situation Room, the nerve center for monitoring international developments. He talked by telephone with Georgia's embattled president, Mikhail Saakashvili, and with Sarkozy, who traveled to both Tbilisi and Moscow and is leading a European Union initiative to bring about peace there.
The administration and its allies are debating ways to punish Russia for its invasion of Georgia, including expelling Moscow from an exclusive club of wealthy nations, the G-7, and canceling an planned joint NATO-Russia military exercise.
"Russia has also stated that it has halted military operations and has agreed to a provisional cease-fire," Bush said. "Unfortunately we've been receiving reports of Russia actions that are inconsistent with these statements."