Cheney Will Give Saakashvili More Assurances From U.S.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in his first visit to Tbilisi this week will assure President Mikhail Saakashvili that the United States stands firmly with Georgia.

Cheney leaves Tuesday on a trip to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine as Washington assesses possible options to punish Russia for its military actions against Georgia.

"The overriding priority, especially in Baku, Tbilisi and Kiev, will be the same: a clear and simple message that the United States has a deep and abiding interest in the well-being and security in this part of the world," John Hannah, national security adviser to Cheney, told reporters late last week.

While parts of the trip were under consideration before the Georgia crisis erupted, it "has clearly taken on increased importance in light of Russia's recent military operations and its decision to recognize unilaterally the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia," he said.

Energy will also be on Cheney's agenda. Two major pipelines cross Georgia, while Azerbaijan exports oil and forms part of an oil transportation route from the Caspian Sea to Europe that bypasses Russia.

"The level of confidence and trust that people have in Russia's overall reliability has been put in serious question," a senior U.S. administration official said on condition of anonymity. "That extends to energy and the issue of energy supplies."

Meanwhile, Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Russia's invasion of Georgia had raised concerns among senior Pentagon officials about future military ties. Mullen also said Russian and U.S. military officials were working carefully to coordinate the movements of their navies in an increasingly crowded Black Sea to avoid any potential for direct confrontation.