Rice praises dissident Russian journalist

The Baltimore Sun

MOSCOW -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paused yesterday during a visit to Russia for talks on North Korea and Iran to make a pointed tribute to a prominent dissident journalist killed under suspicious circumstances.

The shooting Oct. 7 of Anna Politkovskaya, 48, a special correspondent for the independent weekly Novaya Gazeta, has focused fresh attention on restraints on press freedom in Russia and stirred suspicions of official involvement.

An outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, Politkovskaya frequently journeyed to the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya and documented human-rights abuses there by Russian soldiers. She was shot in her apartment building -- with a second bullet to the head, a signature of contract killings -- as she was finishing an article on torturers in the pro-Kremlin government of Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

Putin's response provoked criticism: He initially remained silent for three days and then responded to a reporter's question on the incident by belittling her work, calling her influence "utterly insignificant." Kadyrov has declared his innocence, saying on national television, "I did not kill women, and I never kill them."

In Russia for meetings with government leaders, Rice invited the journalist's son and editors of Novaya Gazeta to her hotel for an interview and used the occasion to mark the journalist's death.

Her remarks were embargoed until tomorrow, when the weekly is published. But, speaking to reporters earlier on her flight from Beijing to Moscow, Rice praised Politkovskaya as "a well-known and well-respected journalist."

"Novaya Gazeta is also one of the best independent voices in Russia, and there is still an independent print press," Rice said. "Unfortunately there is not much left of independent television in Russia."

Journalists in Russia have been under increasing pressure in recent years, and the country is now one of the world's more dangerous for reporters. Since 2000, at least 12 journalists have been victims of contract-style killings, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Rice spoke with Politkovskaya's son, Ilya Politkovskaya, and Novaya Gazeta editors shortly before she met with Putin.

She said in advance that she planned to include human-rights issues among her concerns during meetings with Russian officials. She also said she would focus on enforcement of United Nations sanctions against North Korea for its Oct. 9 nuclear test, efforts to impose sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program and a simmering conflict between Russia and neighboring Georgia.

Rice's last Asian stop was in Beijing, North Korea's traditional ally, where she met with a Chinese government envoy just back from a hastily arranged visit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Rice said the envoy, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, told her nothing that confirmed news reports of conciliatory moves by the North.

"Councilor Tang did not tell me that Kim Jong Il either apologized for the test or said that he would never test again," Rice said, adding that she does not know the source of widely circulated South Korean media reports to the contrary.

"I don't know whether or not Kim Jong Il said any such thing. But the Chinese ... in a fairly thorough briefing to me about the talks, said nothing" that confirms it, Rice said.

A State Department official said Russian leaders had indicated they would enforce the international sanctions against North Korea. "I think it's clear they take it seriously," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In an interview with the Kuwaiti News Agency KUNA shortly before Rice began her talks, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was ready to discuss ways of using international pressure to get Iran to accept greater oversight of its nuclear program but would resist U.N. sanctions against Iran.

"We won't be able to support and will oppose any attempts to use the Security Council to punish Iran or use Iran's program in order to promote the ideas of regime change there," Lavrov said in the interview, which was posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry's Web site yesterday.

Russia has veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

Mike Dorning writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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