Washington The Bush administration announced a $1 billion aid package to Georgia on Wednesday, making the former Soviet republic one of the highest per-capita recipients of U.S. economic assistance.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who unveiled the plan, drew a direct line between what she called Russia's irresponsible behavior in sending troops into Georgian territory last month and the need for "the free world" to "help Georgia sustain itself during these difficult times."
The announcement came on the eve of Vice President Dick Cheney's arrival Thursday in the Georgian capital of Tblisi, part of a three-nation tour demonstrating what he called the United States' "abiding interest" in the Caucasus region along Russia's southern border. Cheney stopped Wednesday in Azerbaijan and will also visit Ukraine.
In a statement issued by the White House, President Bush said the United States is "prepared to help Georgia rebuild and regain its position as one of the world's fastest growing economies."
U.S. officials emphasized that the new plan includes no military aid.
"There is zero military assistance component in this billion-dollar package," said Reuben Jeffery III, undersecretary of state for economic, energy and agricultural affairs.
He said the multiyear plan includes humanitarian assistance, reconstruction of physical damage to Georgian infrastructure during the recent conflict with Russia, and support for the economy.
"Now is not the time" to discuss military assistance, Jeffery said. He recently returned from a trip to Georgia assessing the level of funding it would need.
The aid will be divided into two phases, Rice told reporters at the State Department: $570 million from fiscal 2008 and 2009 funds, and $430 million she said she hopes the next administration will approve.
Rich Green, deputy director of U.S. foreign assistance, said that about two-thirds of the initial $570 million will be redirected from existing accounts, including the Millennium Challenge Account, which funds programs in countries whose governance has been judged democratic, and the Overseas Private Investment Corp.
Although those funds have already been budgeted for other countries, he did not indicate where they would be taken from. The rest of the initial phase of the plan would require congressional reauthorization of funds.
In an early indication of congressional sentiment on the issue, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that deals with foreign assistance, called the plan "a signal of America's strong and unwavering commitment to the people of Georgia."
The assistance plan, assuming it is fully funded, would exponentially increase the level of U.S. aid to Georgia, which totaled about $64 million in fiscal 2008.
Before last month's hostilities, Georgia's economic growth rate was among the highest in the region, with a gross domestic product of $10 billion last year, compared with $4 billion in 2003.
About a third of the U.S. assistance in 2008 was spent on training and equipping the Georgian military to meet NATO standards and to allow Georgia to continue contributing troops to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.