The State Department says it has apologized to Russia for not giving prompt consular access to a Russian citizen arrested in an international drug case. However, the prosecution of the Russian, allegedly a pilot in an Africa-to-Europe smuggling operation, will go forward.
The Russian who is the focus of the unusual apology was first arrested in Liberia in May.
The state department says the drug case itself is now in the hands of U.S. legal authorities and it considers the diplomatic dispute with Moscow closed.
The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier this week accused the United States of "kidnapping" Russian commercial pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was brought to the United States to face drug charges.
The Russian ministry accused U.S. agents of forcibly and secretly transferring Yaroshenko from Monrovia to New York, and violating obligations to allow Russian diplomats consular access to him.
The State Department earlier this week declined comment on the case other than to say that consular access was provided when the 41-year-old pilot reached New York.
But briefing reporters Thursday, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley acknowledged that because of a technical slip-up, the consular visit had not come within the 72 hours required under international conventions, and that the United States has apologized to Russia for the mistake.
"We made every attempt to comply with our international obligations, including consular access. And I would say in the middle of this process there was an error on our part, and consular access was accomplished but was delayed beyond the normal window that we normally work through. Through an exchange of diplomatic notes, we believe we have resolved the questions that have been raised by the Russian federation," he said.
Under questioning, Crowley said a fax message informing the Russian embassy of Yaroshenko's arrival in the United States had been erroneously sent to the mission of another foreign country, which he did not identify.
Crowley said the pilot had been detained in Liberia, expelled, and handed over to U.S. authorities.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA, said Yaroshenko was arrested by Liberian authorities in late May on a U.S. warrant accusing him of being part of a drug ring that smuggled cocaine from South America, to Africa, and then on Europe.
A DEA spokeswoman denied published allegations in Russia that Yaroshenko had been tortured while in custody, saying the agency followed the rules of law and Geneva Convention regulations regarding treatment of a defendant.
Recent State Department reports on the international drug trade have said West African countries are increasingly being used as transit points for South American-origin drugs bound for the United States and Europe - avoiding traditional smuggling routes through the Caribbean.