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World News

Cheney slams "unjustified assault" on Georgia

PHOENIX (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday called Russia’s actions in Georgia an “unjustified assault” and pledged to ensure the small U.S. ally’s territorial integrity.

“We will work with our allies to ensure Georgia’s territorial integrity as a free and independent nation,” Cheney told a meeting of armed forces veterans in Phoenix.

He made the remarks after Russia recognized two rebel regions of Georgia as independent states on Tuesday, driving up tension in the volatile Caucasus and worsening already strained relations between Moscow and the West.

President George W. Bush has condemned Moscow’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as an action that “only exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the United States, Europe and their allies will make the case to Russia that its decision was “very short-sighted.”

He told reporters travelling with Bush to Washington from Texas that Russia knows where the United States stands. “I think Russia has gotten the message,” Fratto said.

Bush, who spoke with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Tuesday night, will receive an update on the conflict from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday evening, Fratto said.

Bush is sending Cheney to Tbilisi next week.

“The Georgian people won their freedom after years of tyranny and they can count on the friendship of the United States,” Cheney said. “That young democracy has been subjected to an unjustified assault.”

The conflict in Georgia erupted when Tbilisi sent troops this month into the breakaway pro-Moscow province of South Ossetia, which threw off Georgian rule in the 1990s. Russia responded with a huge counter-attack that overwhelmed Georgian forces.

Russian troops entered South Ossetia and second separatist area of Abkhazia, and then moved into Georgia proper, drawing heavy criticism from the West that Moscow had gone too far.

Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Richard Cowan, Editing by Sandra Maler and Frances Kerry

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