The Bush administration says the blame for the deaths at the Moscow theater rests squarely with Chechen terrorists, though it says it has posed questions to Russian authorities about their handling of the hostage affair. One U.S. citizen was apparently among the more than 100 hostages who died from the effects of the incapacitating gas used by Russian troops in the rescue operation.
Officials here say the United States was not told in advance that gas was to be used in the commando operation, and that U.S. officials are seeking more information about it.
But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the administration is not inclined to criticize the decisions of Russian authorities, given the predicament they were put in by the Chechens.
He said Moscow officials were faced with a "difficult dilemma," and that there was "no easy way out" of the situation in which Chechen militants were threatening so many people.
"We think it's terrible that all these people lost their lives," he said. "We would remind you, however that it started as a result of a terrorist action. And to suddenly turn on the Russians, given the dilemmas that they were facing at the time, and the difficult choices they had to make, I certainly don't think you can do that without more information. We've asked for more information. And if we have any further evaluation, we will give that to you."
U.S. officials said earlier they believed Russian security forces had used an opiate-based gas in the rescue operation and thus had probably not violated the 1993 international Chemical Weapons Convention, which forbids the use of poisonous and nerve gases.
Mr. Boucher said one U.S. citizen and one permanent U.S. resident who were among the hostages are being treated in a Moscow hospital, while the remains of a third person, thought to be a U.S. citizen who died of the effects of gas, have been located. A positive identification is still pending.
While expressing sympathy for the predicament Russian authorities confronted in the theater takeover, spokesman Boucher reiterated the U.S. view that there can be no military solution to the Chechen conflict.
He said the both sides need to be willing to discuss and resolve the issue of Chechnya's future "in a political manner" and that Chechen leaders have to firmly renounce terrorist acts.