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Russia: U.S. Troubled By Chechen Attack

The United States continues to call for a political rather than military solution to the conflict in breakaway Chechnya. This, as rockets fell in the center of the capital, Grozny, late in the week, killing at least 100 civilians. RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams reports on the consistent, yet muted, U.S. response.

Washington, 25 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton says it is "troubled" by Thursday's rocket attack in Chechnya, which reportedly killed scores of civilians gathered in the capital's main marketplace.

White House Spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters Friday that U.S. officials had been in touch with officials in Moscow in the hours following the attack, reiterating U.S. concern. At the same time, Lockhart acknowledged that there were still conflicting reports from within the Russian government regarding the events of October 21st.

"There is a tragic situation there with terrible loss of life. But there are conflicting reports on the incident and we are working hard now to find out what the facts are. We will continue, regardless of this instance, to make clear to Russia that there is NO way to find a purely military solution to the conflict, (that) there must be political dialogue, and that both parties need to engage in that dialogue."

Lockhart said he expected there would be further discussions with Moscow, as he put it, "at all diplomatic levels" in the days ahead.

Lockhart said the U.S. has repeatedly expressed its concern over the escalation of tensions in Chechnya and the potential negative effects to the region, if such tensions spread.

Lockhart again returned to a recitation of U.S. policy that Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation and that Chechen separatists were equally responsible for halting the violence.

At the same time, he also had a message for Moscow:

"Russia's progress towards developing a civil society, democracy and the rule of law will be in jeopardy if it permits a backlash against its citizens because of their ethnicity or religion. In defending their own territory, Russia should take special care to respect the independence and the security concerns of neighboring states, especially Georgia and Azerbaijan."

That is the essence of a message the United States' leading Russia policy advisor -- Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott -- delivered in testimony before the House International Relations Committee mid-week. It also echoes the thrust of comments out of the U.S. State Department, in the first hours following the Grozny attack.

Briefing reporters Thursday, State Department Spokesman James Foley urged all parties to the Chechen conflict to avoid indiscriminate or disproportionate use of force that would harm innocent civilians.

"In the view of the United States, the spread of violence in the region will be contrary to everyone's interests, except those who rely on violence as a means to their political ends, including separatism."

Foley also recalled the 1994-96 war in the breakaway province, saying it clearly showed a military solution to the problem is n-o-t possible. As he put it, "there must be a vigorous and comprehensive effort to engage political leaders in a dialogue."

RFE/RL's correspondent reports the clear and consistent U.S. call for a peaceful resolution of the Chechen conflict, comes amid and even despite reports of increased violence and instability in the region.