Russian and U.S. officials gave birthday gifts Friday to the 8-year-old boy who was returned to Russia by his adoptive American mother, as Russia sent conflicting signals about whether all adoptions to the United States were now suspended.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday that adoption of Russian children by U.S. families had been suspended after Artyom Savelyev was sent unaccompanied to Moscow last week with a note from his adoptive mother in Tennessee saying he had psychological problems and was violent. People who have spent time with the boy in Moscow say he seems like a happy child.
Russian officials have provided little clarification about the hundreds of U.S. adoptions now in progress.
The Kremlin children's rights ombudsman said Friday that potential parents may still prepare the paperwork for adoptions during the freeze, but courts will not hear U.S. adoption cases.
The Education and Science Ministry, which oversees international adoptions, insisted, however, that it had received no formal instructions to freeze adoptions and it was up to the courts to decide.
The U.S. ambassador in Moscow met Friday with Russian officials on the issue.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that the U.S. does not believe there has been a official suspension of adoptions.
"There are a number of cases that are in the legal system now and are continuing," he said. "We are also aware of a number of cases that were pending before the courts that have been postponed."
A U.S. delegation is flying to Moscow for talks Monday and Tuesday to address Russian concerns and hammer out an accord that would allow the placement of Russian children to go ahead, said David Siefkin, press attache at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Siefkin said the United States has not received official notification of a freeze.
"A lot of American families are now concerned," he said. "We hope the process will keep going, especially for people who applied before and have been waiting for a long time."
Siefkin was with a consular officer who visited Artyom on Friday, his eighth birthday, which he celebrated in the Moscow hospital where was taken for tests upon his arrival. The consular officer brought Artyom presents and "reported that he was laughing and in good spirits," an embassy statement said.
Pavel Astakhov, the children's rights ombudsman, who gave the boy flowers, a cake and a toy car, also said he found the boy happy but running a fever from all the excitement.
Astakhov showed a grainy photocopy of Artyom's U.S. passport, issued on April 9, the day after he returned to Russia. He suggested the U.S. issued the passport as part of an effort to return him to the United States.
The embassy spokesman said that although Artyom is an American citizen, the U.S. is not trying to take him out of Russia.
"We're not at all unhappy that he'll stay here because he's being well taken care of and we know he's going to have a good Russian family and a good home," Siefkin told reporters.
Under the U.S. Child Citizenship Act of 2000, any foreign child adopted by U.S. citizens automatically becomes a citizen once adopted.
Astakhov said several Russian families have already offered to adopt Artyom.
"As soon as he gets well, we'll get him out of the hospital and into a foster family," he told reporters.
The boy's case caused public outrage and bolstered opponents of foreign adoptions, who in past years have pointed to a few highly publicized cases of abuse and killings of Russian children adopted by U.S. families.
But while international adoptions have been vilified in the Russian press, Russian adoption agencies stress the role they have played in encouraging Russians to consider adoption.
"Thanks to Americans as well as Italians and Spaniards, Russians have increasingly become more interested in adopting," said Lyudmila Kochergina, director of the Moscow office of adoption agency Children's Hope International.
A new adoption agreement might provide additional guarantees of Russian children's safety overseas, she said, but adoptions already are heavily regulated and each case is decided by a Russian court, she said.
But what is lacking in some cases is an understanding by the adoptive parents that they will have to work hard to build a relationship with their children, Kochergina said.
"Parents need to be fully aware of the fact that adoption and parenting means a lot of work, and that attachment takes a long time," she said. "All kids from orphanages are difficult to handle. It cannot be any other way because these kids were once betrayed by adults."
More than 1,800 Russian children were adopted in the United States last year, according to the Russian Education Ministry.
Associated Press writer Desmond Butler contributed to this report from Washington.
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