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RIA Novosti

MOSCOW, April 13. (RIA Novosti)-The Georgian press made a sensational announcement yesterday: President George W. Bush plans to convene at the negotiating table Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and the leaders of breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, Noviye Izvestia reports.

The news transpired after Steven Mann, special negotiator from the Bush administration on Eurasia conflicts, had a meeting with Georgian parliamentarians and visited Sukhumi as part of preparations for the May 10 visit of the U.S. president to Georgia.

Givi Targamadze, chairman of the Georgian parliament's committee on defense and security, confirmed the possibility of a three-party meeting in Tbilisi. He told journalists that the Georgian president was ready to meet with the leaders of the breakaway republics.

Georgy Khutsishvili, the director of the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation (ICCN), pointed out that the U.S. president would come to Georgia from Moscow, where he is likely to hold consultations with the Russian leadership. "If Bush and Putin come to an agreement, this will be a powerful argument for the Abkhazian and South Ossetian leaders to come to Tbilisi," he said. "The American president is resolved to bring about changes in the region."

The political scientist believes that another major issue on the agenda of Bush's official visit to Tbilisi, apart from conflict resolution, may be the creation of safer and more stable infrastructure for investment. But this means solving Georgian-Russian problems first. Besides, Bush's visit to Tbilisi will launch economic projects in Abkhazia, which will help reunify Georgia.

Vladimir Putin had tried to bring Saakashvili and the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia together, offering a meeting in his residence in Sochi. But the Georgian president rejected the offer, saying that the idea of meeting "together with these groups" was unacceptable.

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