A senior State Department official yesterday confirmed U.S. officials would be talking to Chechen official Ilyas Akhmadov during his visit to Washington this week. But State Department spokesman James Rubin, in acknowledging the talks, stressed the discussions planned were of a low-level, non-official nature and would not in fact occur at the State Department.
Washington, 14 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Ilyas Akhmadov is in Washington at the invitation of the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies -- a branch of Johns Hopkins University -- and its Central Asian and Caucasus Institute.
Briefing reporters at the State Department Thursday, spokesman James Rubin said it was his understanding that Akhmadov had requested to meet U.S. officials at the State Department. Rubin said talks indeed were planned, but he stressed that they were unofficial talks which would occur outside the State Department.
Fielding a question as to why the U.S. would then meet with someone whom it considers to be a private citizen, Rubin replied as follows:
"We do not recognize Mr. Akhmadov as the foreign minister of an independent Chechnya, but as a private citizen of the Russian Federation. The Department of State, as a matter of practice, has consistently sought out a wide variety of viewpoints from different regions of Russia. We also have a long history of meeting all parties to a conflict."
Rubin said it was on that basis that "working-level" and "desk-level" officials from several bureaus -- Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Population, Refugees and Migration, and (the bureau) of Russian Affairs -- would meet Akhmadov for talks to include humanitarian and refugee concerns in the separatist-minded republic in the Russian Federation.
Rubin said the U.S. had long been on record about its own concerns in those particular areas as regards to Chechnya. Rubin also sought to downplay any further meaning behind the discussion, which comes amid reported signs of a stall this week in Russia's military campaign in Chechnya.
"These discussions do not constitute a change in policy or a recognition of Chechnya in any way, shape, or form. We continue to hold the view and recognize Chechnya as a constituent part of the Russian Federation. We will make that very clear to Mr. Akhmadov, the consistency of our views on Chechnya and our support for the territorial integrity of Russia."
Rubin said the United States remains concerned that continued fighting between Russian forces and rebel Chechen separatists is causing unacceptable death and suffering to innocent civilians.
Russia, meanwhile, this week declared that all males in Chechnya between ages 10 and 60 would be checked out for possible involvement with the rebels. As a result of that order, males of that age group are being denied entry and exit to and from Chechnya.
The State Department has said it is seeking clarification from Russia on the new regulation, but Rubin Thursday again reiterated Washington's "strong opposition" to any non-respect of fundamental human rights of civilians in Chechnya.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch has also protested the new Russian measure.
Akhmadov is certain to bring up that issue, as well as attempt to outline the future the Chechen people envision for themselves, during these and other slated talks in Washington. Next Tuesday, Akhmadov is billed as the keynote speaker at a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty briefing titled, "Making Peace in Chechnya."