US concern over tensions

WASHINGTON - US PRESIDENT Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday expressed concerns about fresh tensions between Russia and Georgia in telephone calls with the leaders of the rival ex-Soviet states.

The White House said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Mr Obama to wish him a happy 48th birthday, and that the leaders discussed the need to ease rattled nerves in the region, a year on from a Russia-Georgia war.

Mr Biden called Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and expressed concern over the situation, as Georgia warned of the risk of a new war with Russia and Moscow raised the battle-readiness of its forces, ahead of the anniversary of their conflict over rebel South Ossetia.

Mr Saakashvili had earlier called on the United States and the European Union to send a 'clear message' to Moscow to help avert a new war, as both sides exchanged accusations of attacks and 'provocations' in the region.

The Russian foreign ministry meanwhile said its forces had heightened their state of battle-readiness in South Ossetia.

Mr Obama's administration is walking a tightrope between its desire to reset ties with Moscow and showing support for its ally Georgia, as tensions rise again between Moscow and Tbilisi.

Russia smashed a Georgian military offensive to recapture South Ossetia in a brief war in August last year, sending relations between Moscow and Washington during the final months of George W. Bush's administration to post-Cold War lows.

Mr Biden risked irking Russia last month when he said in a speech in the ex-Soviet republic that Obama backed Georgia's aspiration to join Nato. He also reiterated long-standing US policy on Georgia's territorial integrity, saying Washington sought a 'free, secure, democratic, united Georgia.'

The White House also said that Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev used Tuesday's conversation to discuss the need to 'move forward quickly' on agreements reached at their summit last month in Moscow.

'In particular, the presidents reaffirmed their commitment to complete negotiations on a follow-on agreement to START by December of this year.' Obama and Medvedev signed a declaration in Moscow pledging to reach a new nuclear arms pact to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. -- AFP


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