Clinton cites concerns over human rights in Russia

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she's optimistic that relations with Moscow will not suffer despite planned legislation in Congress that would impose tough sanctions on Russian human rights violators.

Clinton says she expects "something to move" on both the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik law and on Congress' concerns about Russian human rights.

She told reporters in Finland on Wednesday that the concerns could be expressed "without derailing the relationship (with Moscow) and that is what we are working with our Congress to do and we have every reason to believe we can accomplish that."

The 1974 Jackson-Vanik Act tied trade with the then-Soviet Union to Moscow's willingness to allow Jews and other minorities to leave the country. The repeal of Jackson-Vanik is necessary if U.S. businesses are to enjoy lower tariffs and increased access to Russian markets when Russia joins the World Trade Organization this summer.

Following talks with Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, Clinton told reporters that "we discussed this directly with President (Vladimir) Putin when I was with President Obama in Mexico. We made it very clear that, you know, we do have concerns about human rights in Russia."

A Senate panel in Washington moved forward Tuesday on a bill that would impose tough sanctions on Russian human rights violators, a measure certain to be linked to congressional efforts to lift the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions.

The Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate approved the measure that would impose visa bans and freeze the assets of those held responsible for gross human rights violations in Russia, as well as other human rights abusers.

Specifically, it targets those allegedly involved in the imprisonment, torture and death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail in 2009.

Clinton said, "We think there is a way of expressing those concerns without derailing the relationship" with Moscow, and she added that is "what we are working with our Congress to do, and we have every reason to believe we can accomplish that."

"We are very keen in the administration for repealing the Jackson-Vanik bill because we want to open doors to greater trade and investment between our two countries," the secretary said.

"However there is great concern in our country, and in particular in our Congress over human rights in Russia," she added, "and in particular the case of the lawyer Mr. Magnitsky, who died in prison."

"There's a lot of interest in our Congress over a full, transparent investigation of the circumstances of his death in prison," Clinton said. "And so our Congress, while they are being asked by the administration to repeal Jackson-Vanik, want to pass legislation that will require the United States government to take action against any persons who are connected with the death of Mr. Magnitsky."