She made her remarks during a news conference here with Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president who came to power a year ago after a popular uprising, many of whose leaders received instruction and advice from the very nongovernment organizations that Russia is proposing to ban or seriously restrict.
"We have concerns, and the United States government has expressed these concerns at all levels," she said "We would hope that the importance of nongovernmental organizations would be understood by Russia."
Her statement was the first public criticism of Russia's plans since the lower house of Russia's Parliament voted preliminary approval of the draft bill last month. Before now, administration officials had been noncommittal on the issue. But a senior State Department official traveling with Ms. Rice said that was because the department had hoped to convince the Russian government privately that the proposed new law was a bad idea.
"With the Russians, it is important that we discuss it discretely," he said. Two senior State Department officials, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried and Under Secretary Nicholas Burns, were in Moscow last week talking to the Russian government about the proposed law, the official said. At that time, he added, Russian officials professed an interest in changing the proposed law so it would not seem so onerous, though he said he did not know how seriously to take the statement.
In the face of internal and international criticism, the Parliament has delayed a second - and critical - vote on the legislation until at least Dec. 16.
The proposed law would force 450,000 private organizations to register under tighter rules next year. The draft bill would force foreign organizations to close their offices and try to re-register as purely Russian organizations, which would give the government greater control over their activities.
Representatives of several nongovernment groups said Russia is trying to convince several of the former Soviet states in Central Asia to pass similar laws.
Ms. Rice's statement about the law came amid a 24-hour visit to Ukraine, where she and her aides said they wanted to encourage Mr. Yushchenko to move on with instituting political and economic change. The Ukranian government is riddled with corruption left over from the old, Soviet-backed government that lost power last year, aides say.
Partly as a result of that, Mr. Yushchenko fired his entire cabinet, including his popular premier, Yulia Tymoshenko, in September. Ms. Rice met briefly with her on her way out of town today.
Along with the corruption and infighting in government, Ukraine's economy is stagnating; economic growth slid from 12 percent last year to 4 percent so far this year. Asked about that, Mr. Yushchenko cited a dizzying list of economic figures that he said showed that Ukraine's economy was healthy especially given strong exports of "cattle skins" and "nonferrous and ferrous scrap metals."
He blamed the former government for much of his problems, adding, "We managed to correct all those mistakes rather promptly and speedily."
Ms. Rice ended her visit to Ukraine with a visit to Shevchenko Univeristy, where aides said she hoped to learn what was on the mind of young people.
Instead, one student asked her how she could become "rich and famous" like Ms. Rice.
Another posed the question "How did you get the nickname 'warrior princess?' " Ms. Rice laughed and said she was not sure.
Source: The New York Times