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Bush to Make Historic Trip to Georgia

VOA News | May 8, 2005
By Paula Wolfson

The final stop on President Bush's current European trip may be the most emotional of all. After attending ceremonies Monday in Moscow marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, Mr. Bush will become the first U.S. president to travel to Georgia. He will address the Georgian people in a city square that has come to symbolize their quest for freedom.

President Bush arrives in Georgia 18 months after a popular uprising led to the ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze and put a new elected government in power.

The leader of the so-called Rose Revolution, Mikhail Saakashvili, is now Georgia's president. He told CNN's Late Edition program that President Bush will see a country well on the path to reform.

"What this visit indicates, and what President Bush said himself, is he wants to support very radical, very fundamental reforms, which are going on and taking place in this part of the world," said Mr. Saakashvili. "We want to prove that countries in this region can succeed."

President Saakashvili will not be attending Monday's ceremonies in Moscow. He said his absence is directly linked to a lack of progress in negotiations on the fate of former Soviet bases, now in Russian hands, that remain on Georgian soil.

"We still have former Soviet bases here in Georgia, of course, against the will of the people," he said. "And as it remains one of the legacies of the old Soviet totalitarian regime, I think it did not make too much sense for my people here for me to go and celebrate this in Moscow."

The Georgian president quickly added that he hopes the matter will be resolved fairly quickly, saying all his country wants is, in his words, a sensible timetable for a withdrawal.

Mr. Saakashvili went on to downplay the notion of a deep rift with Russia, saying he talked by telephone Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said it was one of their best conversations ever, adding Mr. Putin understood his decision to forgo the ceremonies in Moscow.

Shortly before his departure for Europe, President Bush told Georgian television that he will do what he can to help resolve the base issue. But he stressed that, in the end, he thinks Georgia and Russia will be able to settle the matter peacefully on their own, saying, sometimes, it just takes time to deal with old disputes.

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