Cheney to head to Georgia as US steps up aid

( dpa ) US President Dick Cheney will head to Georgia next month in support of its government following the Russian military assault on the former Soviet republic, the White House said Monday.

Meanwhile, a high-level US delegation left to Tbilisi for a three- day trip to review country's economic and reconstruction needs as the United States has pledged to help the Caucasus nation rebuild. The US delegation is headed by Undersecretary of State Reuben Jeffery.

"The trip gives us an opportunity to move forward both here in the US government and also with our counterparts in Europe who want to support Georgia's economic and military reconstruction," said Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman.

Cheney is to leave for Georgia on September 2 for talks with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and will later travel to Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Italy.

The conflict in Georgia has brought US-Russian relations to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War and Washington has said there will be consequences in the relationship.

Acting Under Secretary John C Rood told reporters the Bush administration is weighing whether Congress should proceed with approving a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement between the two countries in the wake of the Russian invasion.

"That's something that obviously we're going to have to evaluate, given the current situation," Rood said. "I don't have any announcements for you on that one way or the other."

The Financial Times reported Monday that the United States was preparing to yank the nuclear business deal.

Fratto said Russia has still not met all of obligations under a August 11 French-brokered ceasefire agreement requiring troop pullbacks out of Georgia into the separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions.

Fratto rejected a resolution passed by the Russian parliament on Monday that recognizes the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"The status of those two regions in Georgia are not a matter for any one country to decide," Fratto said. "They're a matter for the international community, through the mechanisms at the United Nations."

Cheney will meet President Viktor Yushchenko, President Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan and with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and President Giorgio Napolitano in Italy.

The United States, despite Russian objections, back NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia.

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