The White House is urging separatist leaders in the breakaway Russian Republic of Chechnya to cut ties with terrorist groups. The Bush administration is also backing Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for peace talks with the separatists.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says terrorists have infiltrated separatist forces in Chechnya.

"The Chechnya leadership, like all responsible political leaders in the world must immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups such as Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaida organization," he said.

At the same time, Mr. Fleischer says the Bush administration welcomes Russia's call for peace talks with separatist leaders. "The United States has long said the only solution in Chechnya is a political solution - a political process to resolve the conflict there," he said.

The White House comments followed a Russian offer of limited support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The United States has long been critical of Russia for using excess force in Chechnya.

And Mr. Fleischer was asked if America is now softening its position. "Concern for human rights remains a vital part of America policy and the only solution to the problem in Chechnya is a political one," he said.

Mr. Fleischer stressed the evidence linking Chechen separatists with terrorist groups is not new. He said Clinton administration officials talked about the connection in congressional testimony back in November 1999.