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US to announce $1 billion aid for Georgia

World

The Bush administration will announce a package of roughly $1 billion in aid to help rebuild war-torn US ally Georgia, which battled Russia over a separatist enclave last month, an administration official said.

The announcement was readied as Vice President Dick Cheney headed for the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine in a trip designed to show Washington stands by its allies in the region despite Russia's military intervention in Georgia.

The planned US aid to Georgia would stretch over several years, the administration official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. There were no further details of the package immediately available.

But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Tuesday that the United States was considering how it might provide economic support for Georgia, which saw much of its infrastructure attacked by Russian soldiers during the brief war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

“One of the real ripple effects of Russia's action has been the need for the outside world to help Georgia and its economy,” McCormack said.

“It's a strong economy. It had - it had a strong record of growth, and we want to make sure that it continues to have that strong record of growth,” McCormack told reporters.

The amount of the Bush administration's aid package appears to dovetail with a proposal by Delaware Senator Joe Biden, the Democrats' vice presidential nominee. He has called for Congress to approve $1 billion in assistance for Georgia - a proposal endorsed by the Democratic presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

The Bush administration is also pondering whether to take moves to punish Moscow for the Georgian intervention, such as possibly scrapping a lucrative civil nuclear deal.

Russia sparked Western condemnation by sending its forces deep into Georgia last month after Tbilisi tried to retake South Ossetia by force. Moscow later recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as independent states.

The European Union on Monday criticized Russia for its military offensive in Georgia, but stopped short of imposing sanctions.

Cheney was to begin his trip in Azerbaijan on the Black Sea, then head to Georgia and from there to Kiev for meetings with Ukraine's pro-Western government, which like Tbilisi is defying Moscow by seeking membership in NATO.

Azerbaijan and Georgia are links in the chain of a Western-backed energy corridor that bypasses Russia, but which the West fears could be in jeopardy after last month's war. (Reuters)

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