10 May 2005 at 12:15:10 PM
Watching the Tbilisi, Georgia rally in Freedom Square that Bush is attending today, with the Georgians singing the Star-Spangled Banner after Bush's comments. Bush treads on sensitive ground with respect to this ex-Soviet republic country, but this stood out.
Despite Bush's foray into the issue of the separatist conflicts, he was cautious when asked about Georgia's demands for a rapid withdrawal of two Russian military bases from Georgia -- the other main hot-button issue between Tbilisi and Moscow.
"There are grounds for work to get this issue resolved," he said in what appeared to be deliberately vague comments so as not to upset Moscow.
The United States has its own military presence in Georgia to train the impoverished republic's small army. It also has financed construction of a training facility for the Georgians near South Ossetia, raising suspicions among the separatists there about Washington's intentions.
The Russian Foreign Minister had protested Bush's visits to Latvia and Georgia.
For their part, the Russians are angry at what they see as the expansion of U.S. influence on countries on their border.
Bush tried to strike a balance in interviews with news organizations from the region at the White House yesterday, when he first told a group of newspaper reporters that "a respectful relationship with a leader of a great country like Russia is important to maintain."
But later he told the Lithuanian state television network that he had reminded Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met in February that the leaders of the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – "don't view the end of World War II as a great moment of celebration" because of their annexation by the Soviet Union.
Bush said he told Putin he hoped Russia would cooperate with them, because it was "in Russia's interests to have free countries and democracies on her border."
Free Countries and democracies that include US Military Bases.
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