G7 ministers urge Russia to accept Georgian truce

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Foreign ministers from the world’s leading industrial nations urged Russia on Monday to agree to an immediate ceasefire with Georgia and respect its territorial integrity, the U.S. State Department said.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said foreign ministers from the United States, Japan, Italy, France, Germany, Britain and Canada -- the so-called Group of Seven (G7) nations -- held a conference call on Monday to discuss the crisis in Georgia and the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

“What they wanted to see was an immediate ceasefire and see a mediation effort put in place to resolve the conflict,” Wood told reporters.

The State Department said the ministers also reaffirmed their support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and urged Russia to respect this.

“They also talked about the need to end attacks and casualties of civilians,” Wood added.

Usually the G7 group is expanded to include Russia, but this time, Russia, the subject of the discussion, was left out. Wood would not say whether the G7 ministers discussed expelling Russia from the expanded group.

The ministers also expressed support for mediation efforts led by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb.


Wood said a special U.S. envoy, senior State Department official Matt Bryza, had arrived in Tbilisi on Monday to join international mediation efforts.

“They are going to have some discussions over how to set up this mediation mechanism,” Wood said. “We are calling on the Russians to accept international mediation.”

The crisis began Thursday when Georgia sent forces to retake South Ossetia, a pro-Russian province that rejected Georgian rule in the 1990s.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a close U.S. ally, has accused Moscow of trying to overthrow his government as Russian troops pushed into two separatist regions.

Wood said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had made more than 90 telephone calls since Friday to find ways to end the conflict. He declined to give details about who the top U.S. diplomat had spoken to.

A U.S. official said Rice spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday night and she talked several times with Saakashvili and other foreign ministers from key allies.

The United States says it is not considering military assistance for Georgia, but it is helping Tbilisi to transport up to 2,000 of its troops from Iraq, where they have been helping U.S. forces, assistance Moscow has criticized.

“We have an agreement with the Georgians to help move their troops out of Iraq back to Georgia. I don’t see that we are a part of this conflict. What we are doing now is calling on the Russians to stop their aggression,” said Wood, when asked about Russian criticism over bringing Georgian forces from Iraq.

The United States has also started to deliver humanitarian support to Georgia, but Wood said those supplies were expected to be exhausted by the end of the day. Plans were being made to bring in more emergency items from Germany.

In addition, he said the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi issued a “disaster declaration” on Sunday, releasing $250,000 in initial funding to provide emergency relief to up to 10,000 people.

The United States has helped evacuate about 170 U.S. citizens from Tbilisi to Armenia and Wood said the dependents of U.S. Embassy staff were also taken out of the country.

Reporting by Sue Pleming