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U.S.: Chechen Officials Hold Talks At State Department

U.S. and Chechen officials held a meeting in Washington this week. The meeting itself wasn't unusual -- the venue was. It took place at the State Department. The U.S. does not recognize Chechen independence and has always stressed it respects the territorial integrity of Russia. Previous meetings with Chechen officials were held outside the State Department. RFE/RL Senior Correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports.

Washington, 16 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. and Chechen officials conducted talks at the State Department this week. They were the first such discussions in the building where American foreign policy is formulated since the start of the latest Chechnya conflict last year.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said yesterday (Tuesday) that the talks on Monday focused on human rights and humanitarian issues stemming from the conflict.

"We did have meetings in the department yesterday (Monday) with Chechen officials. Office directors from our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the Russian -- the Office of Russian Affairs, as well as the Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migration, met with the deputy chairman of the Chechen parliament (Seilam), Bechaev, at the State Department. We focused on human rights and humanitarian issues, and we made clear our view that all parties in the conflict should cease fighting and intensify the political dialogue, to bring about a lasting peace."

Rubin added that "since the focus of the discussion was humanitarian issues, we deemed it appropriate for this meeting to take place in the offices of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor."

Correspondents say the venue of the meeting -- in the heart of the U.S. foreign policy establishment -- was symbolically significant. Last month, the foreign minister of Chechnya's separatist government, Ilyas Akhmadov, met a State Department official. But that meeting took place at a Washington hotel.

The United States does not recognize an independent Chechnya. U.S. officials often stress in public remarks that Washington respects the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. However, President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and other officials, have said the U.S. objects to the conduct of the Russian military campaign against the separatists, particularly because of its impact on civilians.

Rubin did not disclose further details about the meeting. But Lyoma Usmanov, a Chechen representative in Washington, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying "the State Department doesn't spend two hours wasting time."

Usmanov said the meeting was very successful.