The U.S. military-led mission to provide humanitarian aid in Georgia will be "continuous and robust," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today, calling on Russia to commit to keeping open the lines of communication and transportation during relief efforts.
"We expect that Russia will respect the humanitarian nature of that mission, and that ports, sea lanes, air routes will all be open for humanitarian purposes, another pledge that Russia has undertaken to the French," Rice told reporters in a news conference this afternoon.
Rice's remarks came hours after President Bush announced a first U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft was delivering humanitarian aid and medical supplies to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
An additional delivery slated for tomorrow will mark the second shipment in a relief effort that could comprise many planeloads of humanitarian relief, Defense Department officials said.
"There are plans for another flight tomorrow as we continue to assess the wide range of humanitarian assistance options that we might be able to provide both in the immediate and long-term humanitarian capabilities," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will oversee the military's humanitarian mission. Rice, who is scheduled to depart this evening to France en route to Georgia, is delivering the U.S. diplomatic response.
"I am going ... first to meet with the French president and other members of the French government in France," she said, "and then I will fly on to Tbilisi to underscore the strong support of the United States for the Georgian people and for their democratically elected government."
Fighting that began in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia is now in its sixth day, and has broadened to include Russian attacks on Abkhazia, another heavily separatist region, and other parts of the country, where Russia's forces reportedly are still engaged despite Moscow's cease-fire pledge yesterday.
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
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