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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Unsure About Chechen Broadcasts

U.S.-funded radio broadcasts in Chechen, which are due to begin this week, appeared to be in doubt on Tuesday as the State Department said it was discussing their future with Congress.

The Kremlin has objected to the planned Radio Liberty broadcasts and threatened to revoke the station's license to broadcast in Russia if the programming is deemed pro-separatist.

The Chechen-language programming was mandated by Congress to start by Thursday. But a Senate source said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had written to the Broadcasting Board of Governors in December, asking them to hold off pending consultations with lawmakers.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed a letter had been sent but he offered no details. "This is a matter that has been discussed and continues to be discussed with the White House and with the Congress," Boucher told a news briefing. Asked if the broadcasts would begin as scheduled, he replied, "We'll have to see."

Sonia Winter, a spokeswoman for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague, said that as of Tuesday afternoon, no directives had arrived to delay the launch of the Chechen programming. "As far as I know, we are proceeding as planned," she said.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, an official body that oversees U.S. foreign broadcasts, was scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon. The discussions would include the Chechen broadcasts, BBG spokeswoman Joan Mower said earlier Tuesday.

"My understanding at this point is that conversations are still going on between the State Department, Congress and RFE/RL," she said. "There is clearly a disagreement and they are talking."

Prominent commentator Fred Hiatt, writing in The Washington Post on Monday, accused the U.S. administration of cow-towing to President Vladimir Putin.

A senior State Department official, asked if the administration was seeking to avoid offending Russia, replied that Washington was anxious to avoid distracting the Kremlin from seeking dialogue with Chechen separatists.

Moscow fears the broadcasts in Chechen and two other North Caucasus languages could fuel separatism in the region, but proponents say they would give unmatched coverage of local issues.

Boucher noted RFE/RL already broadcasts in Russian to the North Caucasus, where Russian is widely used, but offered no argument for why Chechen should not be used.

A Senate source said the broadcasting was mandated in language accompanying foreign appropriations bills for fiscal year 2001 and 2002, so it was not a legal statute. But he said the executive branch ignored such orders at its peril.

(Reuters, MT)