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US To Continue To Raise Chechnya With Russians

Washington, April 23 (RFE/RL) - The United States has continuing concerns about Chechnya, will continue to raise the issue with the Russian government and feels the matter was given adequate time in summit talks between President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow at the weekend.

That is the gist of statements by U.S. State Department spokesman Glyn Davies Monday in response to a reporter's charge that the U.S. appears to have abandoned advocacy for human rights when it comes to Russia's handling of the conflict in the the breakaway Chechnya republic.

Davies acknowledged that the U.S. "leaves it to the Russians to decide precisely how to go forward" on Chechnya.

He says the U.S. hopes Yeltsin's latest peace plan "gains momentum and ultimately bear some fruit," but admits there is no significant change in the situation so far.

Davies reiterated the U.S. view that military force cannot resolve the Chechen conflict and that, as he put it "it has to be solved by negotiation and perhaps eventually some form of compromise."

He says the issue may not have been given much publicity in the summit talks but that does not mean human rights were ignored.

"Human rights are an issue that we raise with the Russians routinely," Davies said, adding that "the U.S. has raised Chechnya with the Russians before and will continue to do so because we have concerns about what is occuring there."

Clinton said after his talks with Yeltsin Sunday that the U.S. approach is based on the premise that Chechnya is an integral part of the Russian Federation.

He made a controversial comparison to the American civil war in the 1860's - between the southern states that wanted to secede from the union and the northern states that fought to preserve it - saying there had been heavy loss of life then too.

Former Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev was one of the first to use the American civil war analogy to justify Russia's military action against Chechnya, within days of its invasion in December 1994.

Senior U.S. officials soon began using the same analogy but dropped it after a storm of domestic criticism.

Washington analysts pointed out fundamental differences between the U.S. and Russia, noting that American states formed a voluntary union, whereas Chechens were conquered in the 19th century and never agreed to be part of Russia.

They also said the U.S. was and is a true union of self-governing states that band together to form the larger whole. Russia they said, however, is not a real federation of parts forming a state but is one state divided into parts.

Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former staff director on the U.S. National Security Council, says the civil war analogy is misapplied.

He said in an RFE/RL interview Monday that if one has to compare Russia and Chechnya to the United States, it would be more relevant to talk about the war over America's Declaration of Independence in 1776 when the American colonies broke away from Great Britain, the colonizing power.

Sonnenfeldt, now a scholar with the Washington-based Brookings Institution, a private policy research group, says Russians have long tried to place their conflicts on an equal footing with the United States and used the American civil war comparison even before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He says that "back in the Gorbachev period when the Baltic states were demanding independence (in 1990/91), they constantly used our civil war as the case in point of what you do when somebody wants to secede."