The United States Thursday reiterated its "absolutely firm" condemnation of the hostage-taking in Russia's North Ossetia region despite its past support for a political solution to the Chechnya conflict. Secretary of State Colin Powell has discussed the hostage crisis by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Mr. Powell's talk with Mr. Lavrov follows a call by President Bush to Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday, and in both conversations officials say they stressed that the United States stands with Russia in its fight against terrorism and resolutely condemns the taking of innocent schoolchildren as hostages.
The armed militants holding hundreds of young students and others hostage in the Russian school in North Ossetia are demanding that Moscow free Chechen rebels.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the fact the Bush administration has supported a political solution in Chechnya has no relevance to the hostage incident, and that the United States is absolutely firm in condemning this and other recent terror incidents in Russia.
"This is an issue of international terrorism," Mr. Boucher said. "The Russians are quite aware of our overall position on Chechnya, the need to pursue a political settlement. But anybody who disagrees with Russian policy should also pursue a political settlement. There is no excuse and no justification for this kind of hostage-taking, for this kind of terror exercised against school children and the others who are being held."
Mr. Boucher said in his talk with Mr. Lavrov, Secretary Powell reiterated a U.S. offer to provide any assistance Moscow might require in the North Ossetia crisis, but said there have been no requests for help from Moscow.