meets commanders, troops to assess progress|
KIRKUK, Iraq, Dec. 6 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made an unannounced visit to the northern Iraqi
city of Kirkuk on Saturday. . .
Rumsfeld went to Tblisi to assure the country's interim leaders that the United States supports Georgia's independence.
he called on Russia to withdraw troops . . .
At a news conference with Georgia's acting president, Nino Burdzhanadze,
Rumsfeld also cautioned that a credible election process leading to a scheduled Jan. 4 vote for president is critical to stability
in Georgia. Burdzhanadze, who was installed as interim president shortly before Eduard Shevardnadze was driven from power
last month by protests over a fraud-tainted election, said . . .
the new leaders would maintain Georgia's push to become
more integrated in the Euro-Atlantic alliance of which the United States is the driving force.
Rumsfeld got a firsthand look at Georgia's
latest steps in that direction.
He visited a mostly dilapidated former Soviet
military base outside Tblisi where U.S. Marines are training Georgian soldiers in counterterrorism. . .$64 million program, which began in May 2002, is coming to a close, but Burdzhanadze said at the news
conference that she hopes the U.S. military assistance will continue in some form.
The United States sees Georgia as an important partner in the Caucasus region,
in part because it stands
in the path of a planned oil pipeline linking the Caspian
and Mediterranean seas...