The United States is condemning the school hostage-taking incident in Russia's North Ossetia region and offering Moscow all possible assistance in dealing with the situation.

Officials say the United States has been in diplomatic contact with Russian authorities on the hostage incident both in Moscow and through the Russian embassy in Washington.

State Department spokesman Thomas Casey said the United States condemns the hostage-taking in the strongest terms, and demands the unconditional release of all those being held at the North Ossetian school.

"There obviously isn't any cause that can justify taking the lives of innocents or risking the lives of innocents, and we call on the captors to immediately and unconditionally release all the people that they're now holding," he said.

Mr. Casey said the United States "stands with Russia" in the war on terrorism and is ready to provide any assistance it might need in the case, though he said there has been no such request from Moscow thus far.

He said the United States supports the urgent UN Security Council meeting Russia is convening on the series of terror attacks in that country in recent days.