Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will ask Georgia to sign a cease-fire agreement with Russia that includes apparent concessions to Moscow but preserves Georgian borders, a U.S. official said today.
The pact fleshes out a French-brokered agreement worked out this week, giving Russian peacekeepers the express right to patrol beyond two disputed border regions at the heart of the conflict.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the pact is not finalized, said there are important clarifications still to be made and the U.S. would support more powers for the Russian peacekeepers only if they were limited, well defined and temporary.
There were Russian peacekeepers in the two disputed regions before the fighting began, and those forces would remain. The difference now would be that the peacekeepers could venture beyond the regions if need be.
The official said Russia demanded the expanded mandate for its peacekeepers.
The truce plan was agreed to by both sides but it was not yet in full force, and it left some details vague.
Rice plans to discuss the pact Friday with the staunchly pro-American leader of Georgia. She is carrying documents for his signature, after which U.S. and French officials predict Russia will begin withdrawing its fighting forces in earnest.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy said the documents are "intended to consolidate the cease-fire."
"On the ground, it is improving," said Sarkozy, who has been leading Western diplomatic efforts to end the conflict between Russia and Georgia over two breakaway provinces. "If tomorrow, President (Mikhail) Saakashvili signs these documents, then the withdrawal of the Russian troops can start."
Rice, in Europe as part of an emergency diplomatic mission, met today with Sarkozy at his palace in Fort De Bregancon, the day before she heads to the Georgian capital.
"The United States of America stands strongly, as the president of France just said, for the territorial integrity of Georgia," Rice said. "This is a member state of the United Nations and its internationally recognized borders need to be respected."
Rice said "It is time for this crisis to be over."
"The provisional cease-fire must go into place," she said, adding that the Russian president has said Moscow would honor the cease-fire. Rice said Russian military actions on the ground indicate the country hasn't respected the truce.
"We would hope that he would be true to his word," Rice said.
"The provisional cease-fire that was agreed to really must go into place," she added. "And that means that military activities have to cease."
Rice gives Russian peacekeepers more powers