BAKU, Azerbaijan President Bush proposed $1 billion in humanitarian and economic assistance on Wednesday to help rebuild Georgia after its brief war with Russia in August, but he stopped short of committing the United States to re-equipping its battered military.
Bush announced the infusion of aid as Vice President Dick Cheney arrived here in what he described as a demonstration that the U.S. had "a deep and abiding interest" in keeping Georgia and its neighbors free from Russian domination.
The aid along with Cheney's high-profile visit to a region that the Russians call "the near abroad" is sure to inflame tensions further. Russia's leaders have accused the U.S. of having provoked the conflict by providing Georgia weapons and training for its armed forces, while encouraging its aspirations to join NATO.
The aid package, which requires approval from Congress, would expand assistance to a country that has become ardently pro-American in recent years.
The aid would dwarf the $63 million that the U.S. provided to Georgia last year, roughly a third of it for training its soldiers, police officers and border guards. The U.S. has provided about $1.8 billion overall in the 17 years since Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Washington, said that $570 million of the aid would be made available this year, while the rest would depend on approval by a new administration and a new Congress. It does not include any military aid, administration officials said.
The U.S. military has so far delivered $30 million in emergency aid, including 1,200 tons of food and relief supplies like tents, delivered by 61 Air Force jets and two Navy ships.
Cheney challenged Russia's dismissal of Georgia's elected leader here in Azerbaijan on Wednesday, the first of three stops to bolster the resolve of countries in the face of a newly assertive and much larger neighbor. He is scheduled to visit Georgia today, then Ukraine.
"We met this evening in the shadow of the recent Russian invasion of Georgia, an act that has been clearly condemned by the international community," Cheney told Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, in a meeting at the presidential residence in Zagulba Baglari on the Caspian coast.
"President Bush has sent me here with a clear and simple message to the people of Azerbaijan and the entire region: The U.S. has deep and abiding interests in your well-being and security."