The first meeting between John F. Kerry as the new secretary of state and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov could be dominated this week by the emotional issue of Americans adopting Russian children, after an explosive exchange between Russian lawmakers and the U.S. ambassador in Moscow.
U.S. and Russian diplomats are trying to defuse the tension before Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov hold talks Tuesday in Berlin.
Members of Russia's parliament and children's rights advocates in Moscow last week taunted Ambassador Michael McFaul after he declined to appear before a Russian legislative committee to discuss the progress of a U.S. investigation into the January death of a 3-year-old Russian boy adopted by an American woman in Texas.
Mr. McFaul explained on the U.S. Embassy website that American ambassadors do not testify before foreign legislatures.
He offered to meet with any Russian lawmaker concerned about the investigation into the death of Max Shatto near Odessa, Texas, on Jan. 21 or the deaths of 20 other Russian children adopted by U.S. families over the past two decades. He also noted that Americans have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children who are living in the U.S.
Top members of the Duma, the lower house of parliament, pounced on his position.
"By refusing to come to the state Duma to discuss the deaths of our children, the U.S. ambassador has shown that he is not ready for a serious dialogue on this problem," said Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee.
Irina Yarovaya, chairwoman of the security committee, issued a sarcastic statement. "Apparently he believes it is undemocratic to acknowledge inaction of the U.S. authorities over the violence and abuse of small children," she said on the Duma's website.
Pavel Astakhov, a children's right advocate, accused the American mother of "killing" the adopted Russian boy.
A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin tried to calm the diplomatic dispute, which has been growing since December when Russia outlawed further U.S. adoptions after Washington imposed sanctions on some Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses.
"I think it's necessary to temper emotions a bit," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.
In his statement on the U.S. Embassy website, Mr. McFaul noted that U.S. officials and Russian diplomats in Texas and Washington are in regular contact over the investigation. He also expressed frustration over the reaction in the Duma and in the Russian media.
"It is time for sensational exploitations of human tragedy to end and for professional work between our two countries to grow on this issue and many others," he said.
Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:
Greg Selinger, premier of Manitoba, and Stephen Molodetz of Hydro Quebec. They discuss Canada's hydroelectric power in a forum at the Canada Center of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Sergio Fajardo, governor of Colombia's Antioquia administrative district and a former mayor of Medellin. He addresses the Inter-American Dialogue.
Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the law and constitution committee in the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament; Konstantin Remchukov, editor-in-chief of the Russian independent daily newspaper the Nezavisimaya Gazeta; Igor Yurgens, head of the Moscow-based Institute for Contemporary Development. They address the Center for the National Interest on U.S.-Russian relations.
Justice Desiree Bernard of the Caribbean Court of Justice; Catalina Botero, a former magistrate of the Constitutional Court of Colombia; Judge Carmen Alanis Figueroa of the Federal Electoral Tribunal of Mexico; Mirna Perla, a former justice of the Supreme Court of El Salvador; Justice Janet Tello of the Supreme Court of Peru; Clara Ines Vargas, former president of the Constitutional Court of Colombia; Judge Maria Eugenia Villasenor, 5th Court of Appeals of Guatemala; and Judge Maria Francisca Zapata of the 1st Supervisory Court of Santiago, Chile. They speak at a forum sponsored by the Inter-American Dialolgue, International Association of Women Judges and the League of Women Voters.
Moushira Khattab, Egypt's former ambassador to the Czech and Slovak republics and to South Africa. He addresses the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on the rise of Islamist parties after the Arab Spring.
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