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US, Russia approve adoption safeguards

14 july 2011, 15:38
The United States and Russia agreed Wednesday to strengthen safeguards on adoptions, hoping to remove a key irritant as the two powers highlight improving ties, AFP reports.

On a visit to Washington, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took up a range of issues from Libya to Syria to missile defense. In a rare step for a non-head of state, Lavrov met at the White House with President Barack Obama.

Lavrov also signed an accord with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on adoption. Many Russians were outraged last year when a Tennessee woman returned her seven-year-old adopted son on a flight alone back to Russia with a note saying he was violent and she could not care for him.

"We take very seriously the safety and security of children that are adopted by American parents and this agreement provides new, important safeguards to protect them. It also increases transparency for all," Clinton told reporters.

Under the accord, only agencies approved by Moscow would be able to arrange adoptions in Russia, officially ending the role of independent services. The only exception would be for children adopted by biological relatives.

The agreement also calls for Russia to provide more information on children's social and medical histories and for monitoring and reporting on US parents after they adopt children.

Lavrov praised the deal for including "guarantees and safeguards for both sides" and said Russian diplomats would be given access to adoptive parents.

But a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that any US or Russian government officials would be allowed into homes for checks. The official said that monitoring would be conducted by adoption providers.

The United States has the world's most adoptive parents and Russia has long been one of the biggest sources of children, with only China and Ethiopia providing more children last year.

But the number of children adopted from Russia to the United States has declined to 1,079 last year from a peak of 5,862 in 2004 amid growing unease in Moscow, according to official figures.

Clinton and Lavrov also signed an agreement intended to streamline visa regulations and recommitted the nations to disposal of weapons-grade plutonium.

Obama took office in 2009 and proclaimed a "reset" in relations with Moscow, which had grown increasingly tense at the end of George W. Bush's presidency at a time of rising Russian wealth and assertiveness.

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reached a new START treaty on nuclear disarmament and have agreed to cooperate on a ballistic missile shield, a major source of friction between the former Cold War foes.

Lavrov played down persistent disputes over missile defense and Libya, where Russia has criticized Western intervention against Moamer Kadhafi's regime.

Lavrov said that Russia has "less misunderstanding with the United States than with some European countries" -- a reference to France and Britain which spearheaded calls for military action.

"We have a new quality to our cooperation," Lavrov said of US-Russian ties. "We do not only think about strategic things. We also care about our citizens."

But a number of Republican lawmakers in the US Congress are strongly critical of the Democratic administration's outreach to Russia and point to human rights concerns.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently said Russia was "taking on a more Stalin-era appearance every day" and rejected Obama's efforts to bring Moscow into the World Trade Organization.

"The administration must end its string of concessions to the regime in Moscow, which have not resulted in increased cooperation with the US or an improvement in Russia's human rights record," she said.

Rights activists and opposition journalists have repeatedly been assaulted in Russia and police have broken up a string of public protests.

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