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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shevardnadze Pressured by U.S. on Orphan Issue

WASHINGTON -- It's a given in high-level diplomacy that carefully planned state visits sometimes get hijacked by the unexpected, but it's been a while since one got derailed by a group of orphan children.

That fate clouded a stop in Washington by Eduard Shevardnadze, the president of Georgia, a country once part of the former Soviet Union that straddles important new trade corridors linking oil-rich Central Asia with European factories.

While Shevardnadze arrived Thursday to lure trade, investment and economic assistance to his struggling nation, the interest of some Americans in the visit was focused elsewhere: the fate of about 15 Georgian orphans, most of them infants, who are trapped in a struggle between U.S. families hoping to adopt them and Shevardnadze's wife, Nanuli. U.S. congressmen taxed Shevardnadze on the issue Thursday.

Nanuli is determined to prevent the children's departure, even though they would remain orphans in their homeland.

She has placed herself at the forefront of an intense nationalist debate that reflects the concern of some in Georgia that the country has been losing too many of its children.

Nevertheless, those familiar with the issue believe some Georgian authorities were prepared to release the children already promised to foreign parents until Nanuli Shevardnadze personally intervened.