Georgian president thanks Biden for support

MILWAUKEE - September 26, 2008 - "You came straight into the middle of the conflict. ... That was very brave of you," Saakashvili told Biden before they began a private meeting here Friday. "I certainly will not forget that, and my people are not going to forget it."

Saakashvili said the trip was even more remarkable because it came while Biden was being publicly mentioned as a leading candidate to become the running mate of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Biden traveled to the pro-Western former Soviet republic in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; he was picked by Obama several days later.

Biden told the Georgian president, whom he has known since before he become president, "I was happy to do that and thought it was important to show American solidarity and support." Biden added that Russia must not be allowed to bring down a democratically elected government, that the U.S. and Europe should provide substantial economic aid to George and that Russia should be penalized for its actions.

The remarks came at the beginning of the two-hour meeting between Biden, who was in Wisconsin to campaign, and Saakashvili in a hotel conference room while photographers and a television producer were allowed in for five minutes. At the end of the brief statements, Biden asked for questions, but there were none.

The remarks were provided by CBS News producer Arden Farhi, who was in the room and provided a pool report for other reporters who were not.

This Associated Press reporter and two reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel were not allowed to join the photo opportunity. Obama campaign spokesman David Wade said he understood the three reporters arrived too late.

An hour before the meeting, the AP was advised by Phil Walzak, an Obama campaign spokesman, that only photographers and not reporters would be allowed in. The AP sent a reporter anyway to try to get in and was told by Walzak, "It's a private meeting between the senator and a head of state."

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