US pledges to press rights with Russia
The United States said Wednesday it will keep pressing Russia on human rights but hoped to maintain cooperation after Moscow responded angrily to a ban on officials linked to a lawyer's death.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the United States was obliged under domestic law to ban visas for individuals around the world "who we believe are guilty of human rights abuses."
Toner said the State Department identified an unspecified number of Russian officials as responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, 37, who went untreated in a Moscow jail during pre-trial detention in a complex fraud case.
"I think it's safe to say that we're going to continue to raise human rights cases and issues where we deem appropriate," Toner told reporters when asked about Russia's reaction.
Russia's foreign ministry warned that the US move could be a "serious irritant" and hinder the "reset" -- President Barack Obama's drive since taking office in 2009 to ease tensions with Moscow.
"The reset has always been about working constructively with Russia in those areas where we share common concerns, and we've always said that that's not going to be done at the expense of our basic principles, including human rights," Toner said.
Toner cited cooperation on Libya -- where Russia has been mediating a potential exile of strongman Moamer Kadhafi -- and Afghanistan, where Moscow has assisted by allowing NATO forces to fly over its territory.
"We're appreciative of that but it's certainly something that's in Russia's interest as well," Toner said of cooperation in Afghanistan.
A US official speaking on condition of anonymity said that the State Department took the visa decision because it had finished a review on the case and not in response to other dynamics in US-Russia relations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Washington just two weeks ago and highlighted growing cooperation in meetings with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The administration has faced pressure from Congress. Ben Cardin, a senator from Maryland of Obama's Democratic Party, has urged a ban on visas for Russian officials involved in the Magnitsky case and other human rights concerns.
© 2011 AFP