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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rumsfeld Moves to Firm Ties With New Georgian Leaders

APRumsfeld, left, being greeted by Burdzhanadze and Saakashvili in Tbilisi on Friday.
TBILISI, Georgia -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld assured Georgia's interim leaders on Friday that the United States supports the country's independence and urged Russia to withdraw its troops as it promised to do four years ago.

At a news conference with the acting president, Nino Burdzhanadze, Rumsfeld also cautioned that a "credible election process" leading to a scheduled Jan. 4 vote for president is "critical to stability in Georgia."

Burdzhanadze, who was installed as interim president shortly before Eduard Shevardnadze was driven from power last month by protests over a fraud-tainted election, said the new leaders would maintain Georgia's push to become more integrated in the Euro-Atlantic alliance, of which the United States is the driving force.

Rumsfeld got a firsthand look at Georgia's latest steps in that direction, visiting a former Soviet military base outside Tbilisi where U.S. Marines are training Georgian soldiers in tactics to fight terrorists.

The $64 million program, which began in May 2002, is coming to a close, but Burdzhanadze said at the news conference that she hopes the U.S. military help will continue in some form.

"We have had good meetings with the president and certainly wanted to underscore America's very strong support for stability and security and the territorial integrity here in Georgia," Rumsfeld said. "The United States agrees that Russia should fulfill its commitment under the Istanbul Accords to withdraw Russian forces from Georgia."

Also in Rumsfeld's meeting with Burdzhanadze were two other key figures in the former opposition: Zurab Zhvania, now acting state minister, and Mikheil Saakashvili, considered the front-runner in the presidential contest.

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov accused the United States of playing a role in Shevardnadze's resignation, according to an interview published Saturday in Komsomolskaya Pravda.

"I think there are enough facts proving that what happened in those days wasn't spontaneous, it didn't arise suddenly," Ivanov said. "Of course there were preparations, and the U.S. ambassador was involved, as Shevardnadze himself has admitted."

Ivanov also said a fund set up by billionaire philanthropist George Soros to bolster civil society played a role.