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US envoy in Moscow defends his government's record on Chechnya

Moscow, 28 September: The US government has included on a blacklist Shamil Basayev's group, which has claimed responsibility for the recent explosions of Russian planes and seizure of the school in Beslan, US ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow told Interfax today.

At a request to comment on accusations by Russian media and diplomats that the US government has been following a policy of double standards in the fight against terrorism, the ambassador said that at government level the USA "has undertaken and continues to undertake very specific steps to help Russia ward off the terrorist threat".

"Above all, we have officially included several groups that we know have links to Chechen fighters in our list of organizations that fund terrorist activity. One of the organizations is the group led by Shamil Basayev that has claimed responsibility for the recent explosions of Russian planes and seizure of the school in Beslan," Vershbow stressed.

This means, Vershbow said, that "we are putting pressure on governments all over the world by trying to freeze the funding to these groups". He said that of great importance is "the broad exchange of intelligence information relating to terrorists between our governments".

"We also closely cooperate with Russia's neighbours in the Transcaucasus, especially Georgia and Azerbaijan, in order to cut off supplies of weapons and funds for Chechen terrorists from abroad," Vershbow said.

In answer to the question of how the American side sees the ways out of the Chechen crisis, he answered: "It is extremely important above all to stress that the USA supports Russia's territorial integrity and does not recognize the separatist Chechen government as legitimate."

"However, simple common sense shows that a stable and continued peace in Chechnya in the long run will need a solution with a solid political and socioeconomic basis. Evidently the solution will be a long-term one only if it is acceptable to the people of Chechnya," Vershbow noted.

To a question relating to statements by American officials on the possibility of contacts with moderate representatives of Chechen separatists and whether Aslan Maskhadov was on the list, Vershbow replied: "We have clearly stated and state that we have never said that either we or the Russian government should talk to or have dealings with terrorists."

"We have never had and never will have meetings with people whom we know to have links with terrorists. We have not called on the Russian government to have talks with Maskhadov," Vershbow stressed.