Lieberman advocates stronger Georgia defense

A prominent U.S. senator advocated strengthening Georgia's capability to defend itself against possible future Russian attack as he visited the country Wednesday in a signal of solidarity.

Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, representing the Senate Armed Services Committee, met displaced Georgians, government officials including President Mikhail Saakashvili, and U.S. Brig. Gen. Jon Miller, who is in Georgia with a team assessing humanitarian needs.

Lieberman said he and Graham "would like to see the United States provide assistance to the Georgian military - self-defense equipment that will help them defend and deter against Russian aggression in the future" - specifically, anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems.

After meeting Georgian officials, he said, "we asked them what security needs they had, and they were quite specific and quite defined."

As for other aid, "billions of dollars are what are needed here" for humanitarian assistance and rebuilding infrastructure, said Lieberman, an independent and close friend of Republican presidential hopeful John McCain.

The U.S. has been flying aid to Georgia, where recent estimates suggest about 100,000 people have been displaced by the two-week conflict with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

About half of the displaced Georgians have taken refuge in schools, municipal offices and even condemned buildings in and around the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Speaking to women at a displaced persons' center set up at a former government forestry institute in Tbilisi, Lieberman said: "We're not going to let this aggression stand. The world is behind you."

"We can't let a bully do this, because if they do it here, they'll do it other places, and if we don't stop it here we'll have to stop it in a much more difficult way," Lieberman added.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican, spoke alongside Lieberman and said that the Russians are "not going to prevent the American people from helping you."

The senators' trip was also taking them to Ukraine and Poland.

In a pre-trip statement, Graham said the visit was meant to show U.S. "support and solidarity" for Georgia, Poland and Ukraine, "particularly in light of the recent aggression against Georgia."

"I believe it is in our own national security interests to stop Russia from continuing its aggressive actions against Georgia or threatening other countries in the region," he said in a joint statement with Lieberman.

[Source: By Davil Rising, Associated Press in iStockAnalist, Tbilisi, 20Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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