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U.S. hopes to limit Russia's role in Georgia

  • Story Highlights
  • French deal allows Russian peacekeepers to "implement additional security"
  • U.S. version would limit role of Russian troops compared with French deal
  • Russians could interpret role as allowing occupation, official says
  • U.S. is pushing to ensure Russian role is limited, temporary, well-defined
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From State Department Producer Elise Labott and Correspondent Zain Verjee
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is taking a cease-fire document to Tbilisi, Georgia, that would limit the role of Russian troops there in the peace agreement reached this week, a senior State Department official said.

The official said the deal won't be signed until the loophole is closed.

It would offer a slight concession to Russia. The United States had initially insisted Russia immediately return all its troops to pre-conflict positions inside South Ossetia but would now allow them to patrol a small area outside in Georgia proper.

The French-brokered deal allows Russian peacekeepers to "implement additional security measures" until international security can be put in place.

That could be interpreted by Russia as operations outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two disputed border regions at the heart of the conflict. Russia had peacekeeping troops in those regions before last week.

The official said his understanding from discussions with French negotiators is that Russia's powers would be "very limited to a light patrolling ability, such as a few kilometers outside of South Ossetia, not the right to maintain a presence inside Georgia."

"The trick is, the French need to clarify language and toughen it up so that it isn't an open-ended," the official said.

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The official spoke after Rice met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered a cease-fire agreement to end hostilities between Russia and Georgia. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not final.

The six-point plan calls for both sides to end the fighting, promise not to use military force and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Important clarifications still need to be made before the deal is signed, the official said, adding that the United States is pushing to close loopholes to ensure that any Russian peacekeeping role is limited, temporary and well-defined. "The Russians insisted on language that was so open they could drive a tank through it," the official said. "And we told the French the Georgians can't accept this as is, and frankly, we don't blame them. This needs to be limited in a way that is hard and specific."

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The U.S. concern, the official said, is that Russia could interpret its powers of imposing "security" to mean it has the right to continue to occupy the city of Gori, for instance.

Under the agreement, Georgian troops would also be required withdraw to their regular bases, and Russia is required to pull its forces back to positions held before the fighting started last week.

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