US poised to announce $1B in aid for Georgia
The Bush administration plans to roll out a $1 billion economic aid package for Georgia on Wednesday to help the pro-Western former Soviet republic rebuild after Russia's invasion last month, The Associated Press has learned.
The multi-year proposal calls for spending about half of the total in the administration's remaining five months in office and recommending that the incoming president and his team continue funding the project when they take over in January, a senior official said.
Both the Democratic and Republican contenders for November's presidential elections, Barack Obama and John McCain, have expressed support for Georgia's embattled government in the face of Russia's invasion.
The package, some of which will require congressional approval, will be a substantial U.S. investment in Georgia but is only half the $2 billion a year in assistance Washington provides its closest Mideast ally, Israel.
The White House and State Department intend on Wednesday afternoon to jointly announce the aid package, which follows a fact-finding and assessment mission to Georgia by Reuben Jeffrey, a senior U.S. diplomat who returned from the country last week, the official told the AP.
Jeffrey has recommended that assistance be sped to Georgia to help it rebuild its economy and infrastracture that was destroyed by Russian tanks, troops and airstrikes, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.
Specific details of the aid were still being worked out, but large chunks will go toward fixing transportation, utility and other essential facilities damaged in the fighting, the official said.
The aid is aimed at showing concrete U.S. support for Georgian President Mikhail Saakhashvili and his government and is to be announced shortly before Vice President Dick Cheney visits Georgia this week.
It follows increasingly harsh criticism from Bush, Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top administration officials of Russia's actions against Georgia and its refusal thus far to comply with the terms of a French-brokered cease-fire.
However, the aid will not be accompanied by threatened punitive measures against Russia that are still being considered and which the administration would like to take in concert with European nations, the official said.
European Union leaders on Monday threatened to delay talks with Moscow on a political and economic agreement unless Russia pulls its troops back from positions in Georgia that they occupied in early August in a dispute over the separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
On Aug. 7, Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia, hoping to retake the province, which broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s. Russian forces repelled the offensive and pushed into Georgia.
Both sides signed the cease-fire in mid-August, but Russia has ignored its requirement for all forces to return to prewar positions. Moscow insists the cease-fire accord lets it run checkpoints in security zones of up to 4 miles into Georgian territory.
Russia has now recognized the independence of the two regions, drawing condemnations but little else from the United States and Europe, which have found their leverage with Moscow is limited.