WASHINGTON A senior U.S. official said Tuesday that the United States is reviewing how to help Georgia rebuild its military after it was pulverized by Russia.
U.S. officials have been reticent about discussing renewed military aid to Georgia for fear of aggravating tensions as Russia continues to occupy parts of the country. Russia has lashed out at the United States for earlier training and supplying of Georgia's armed forces.
Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman told lawmakers at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the Department of Defense is sending an evaluation team to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, this week.
"We will review how the United States will be able to support the reconstruction of Georgia's economy, infrastructure and armed forces," he said.
Lawmakers at the hearing pressed Edelman and Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried to outline how the United States will respond to Russia's new assertiveness.
The officials responded in broad terms without disclosing any new actions the U.S. plans to take to punish Russia for the invasion.
"Our strategic response must include the longer-term consequences of the invasion of Georgia for our relationship with Russia," Fried said.
Fried also strongly rejected Russia's assertion of a sphere of influence in regions near its border. He was referring to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's vow last month to protect what he called its "privileged" interests in the former Soviet nations and to defend its citizens and the interests of its businessmen abroad.
"We must prevent Russia from drawing a new line through Europe," he said.
In a symbolic move Monday, President Bush canceled a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Russia that was until recently viewed as an opening to ameliorate rising tensions.
Bush had sent the agreement to Congress for approval in May, after a much-heralded signing by the two nations that capped two years of tough negotiations. On Monday, Bush officially pulled it back.
"We make this decision with regret," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement read by spokesman Sean McCormack. "Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement."
Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the decision was "erroneous and politicized" and would deal a blow to the U.S.-Russian cooperation and damage U.S. interests.
"The agreement on peaceful use of nuclear energy was equally beneficial to Russia and the United States, so the decision to opt out of it will hurt the U.S. nuclear industries no less than Russia's," the statement said.
The decision was to punish Moscow for its invasion and brief war last month with its small, West-leaning neighbor, Georgia. It was the culmination of a series of U.S. actions, including a recently announced $1 billion foreign aid package for Georgia and a visit to that country by Vice President Dick Cheney. The nuclear deal had been highly unlikely to win approval in Congress this year anyway, but Bush decided to withdraw it to make a louder statement.
Moscow, though, might not be much inclined to hear it.
Newly flush with riches from sales of its vast energy resources, Russia appears to feel it no longer has as much need for the potential billions in revenue the deal would have provided. The deal would have allowed Moscow to establish a lucrative business as the center for the import and storage of spent nuclear fuel from American-supplied reactors around the world.
The deal's disappearance hampers some important global goals for Bush. It would have given Washington access to state-of-the-art Russian nuclear technology, while helping it deal with climate change by increasing civilian nuclear energy use worldwide and keeping nuclear material away from terrorists.