Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is taking a cease-fire document to Tbilisi, Georgia, that would limit the role of Russian troops there in the peace agreement reached this week, a senior State Department official said.
The official said the deal won't be signed until the loophole is closed.
The French-brokered deal allows Russian peacekeepers to "implement additional security measures" until international security can be put in place.
That could be interpreted by Russia as operations outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two disputed border regions at the heart of the conflict. Russia had peacekeeping troops in those regions before last week.
The official said his understanding from discussions with French negotiators is that Russia's powers would be "very limited to a light patrolling ability, such as a few kilometers outside of South Ossetia, not the right to maintain a presence inside Georgia."
"The trick is, the French need to clarify language and toughen it up so that it isn't an open-ended [right]," the official said.
The official spoke after Rice met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered a cease-fire agreement to end hostilities between Russia and Georgia. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not final.
The six-point plan calls for both sides to end the fighting, promise not to use military force and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Important clarifications still need to be made before the deal is signed, the official said, adding that the United States is pushing to close loopholes to ensure that any Russian peacekeeping role is limited, temporary and well-defined.
"The Russians insisted on language that was so open they could drive a tank through it," the official said. "And we told the French the Georgians can't accept this as is, and frankly, we don't blame them. This needs to be limited in a way that is hard and specific."
The U.S. concern, the official said, is that Russia could interpret its powers of imposing "security" to mean it has the right to continue to occupy the city of Gori, for instance.
Russia issued a rebuke to President Bush on Thursday over the conflict in neighboring Georgia, refusing an immediate withdrawal of its troops there, affirming its support for two separatist enclaves and warning the United States to avoid doing anything that would encourage its Georgian ally to reignite hostilities.
In response, in the most pointed language yet from a Bush administration official, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates declared that Russia’s actions now required a full reassessment of administration efforts to create “an ongoing and long-term strategic dialogue with Russia.”
At a Pentagon briefing, Mr. Gates said, “Russia’s behavior over the past week has called into question the entire premise of that dialogue and has profound implications for our security relationship going forward, both bilaterally and with NATO. If Russia does not step back from its aggressive posture and actions in Georgia, the U.S.-Russian relationship could be adversely affected for years to come.”
Still, he ruled out the use of American military force in connection with the conflict. “I don’t see any prospect for the use of military force by the United States in this situation,” Mr. Gates said. “Clear enough?”
On the ground in Georgia, both sides appeared to take tentative steps to back away from further fighting and adhere to the framework of a cease-fire brokered on Wednesday. But by the end of the day, Russian troops continued to hold their positions, and conditions were largely unchanged.
A day after Mr. Bush demanded that Russia pull its forces from Georgia and sent humanitarian aid there, it was clear that tensions between the two powers were not subsiding.
Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, held a televised meeting with the leaders of the two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and pledged that Russia would provide whatever they needed to secede lawfully from Georgia.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said separately in a radio interview that Georgia “can forget about” its territorial integrity because the Georgian government under President Mikheil Saakashvili had committed so many atrocities that the two breakaway regions could never live under Georgian rule.
Russian defense officials raised questions about the nature of the humanitarian aid that the United States military has begun airlifting to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. And the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Washington should avoid steps that might prompt new fighting and “lead to the repetition of a tragic scenario.”
Doctors and psychologists are working around the clock in makeshift hospitals to help thousands of South Ossetians affected by the regional conflict. It may take months for victims to overcome the trauma of the bombardment. At least 1700 Russian Emergency Ministry workers are helping repair the damage and hunt for survivors who may be trapped under rubble in Tskhinvali.
Military engineers are searching the city for unexploded shells which pose a mortal danger to civilians and peacekeepers.
A bread factory has been restored in Tskhinvali and food and water are being supplied to residents. A camp has been erected in the city to provide support and radio broadcasts have been launched to keep people informed of the latest news.
Peacekeepers have helped restore the republic’s only hospital. It was shelled during the hostilities, forcing doctors to treat the wounded in the basement.
Meanwhile, South Ossetian authorities say they will take a tough stance on the possible looting of abandoned houses. Two people were reported killed on Wednesday when they were caught looting.
Russia held a day of mourning for those killed during the five days of fighting in South Ossetia on August 13. People from the capital Tskhinvali, which became a battlefield after being attacked by Georgia, are recovering from a nightmare. It’s hard to find a citizen who hasn't lost a relative in the conflict.
A vigil to remember the victims of the violence was held during the night at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.