Russia and the United States are moving closer to signing a new accord on adoptions, officials from both countries said Wednesday.
But how close is unclear. A Russian official said agreement has been reached on "all principal issues" and a deal should be signed within two months. The U.S. State Department spokesman, however, said that although the two countries have reached a "broad understanding," many details still need to be worked out and the deal "is not done."
Russia had demanded such an accord after a 7-year-old Russian boy was sent back to Moscow last month — alone on a one-way flight — by his adoptive American mother in Tennessee, creating an uproar in Russia. American adoption officials also were horrified at the drastic action taken by the mother and angry about its possible repercussions.
Russian officials say they want more control over U.S. adoptions of Russian children and the living conditions those children face in the United States.
"We have reached agreement on all principal issues and have seen willingness to sign such an agreement," children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov told reporters after U.S. and Russian officials met to discuss the pact.
The draft agreement is expected to be approved on Friday, and the deal should be signed within the next two months, he said.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was more cautious.
"These discussions are technical in nature since any agreement that we ultimately reach is subject to domestic law in both countries, so we would expect that there would be further rounds of discussion before we are able to finalize an agreement. It is not done," he told reporters in Washington.
Crowley said the talks, which he described as positive and productive, would continue Thursday in Moscow.
The return to Russia of Artyom Savelyev, who is now 8, caused some officials to demand a freeze on foreign adoptions. Russia's parliament, however, defeated a motion Friday to suspend adoptions to the United States.
Astakhov confirmed on Wednesday that adoptions to the U.S. have not been "legally suspended" but said they are "effectively suspended" as Russian courts will not rule on adoption cases as long as there is uncertainly about the children's safety in that country.
Under Russian law, only a presidential act or legislation passed by the parliament can freeze foreign adoptions.
The new deal will make it obligatory for adoption agencies as well as adoptive parents to report on their child's health and living conditions, and to "open the door" for social workers to check the facts reported, Astakhov said.
Savelyev's adoptive mother refused to allow a social worker into the house less than a month before the boy was dispatched back to Russia — a visit that could have prevented the boy's misfortunes.
Russia also has accepted a U.S. proposal to allow adoptions only through U.S.-accredited agencies, the ombudsman said. These agencies work in compliance with the Hague Adoption Convention, to which Russia, however, is not a signatory yet.
"This will be an extra guarantee that random people and random organizations will not be involved in such an important and delicate matter as adoption of Russian children in the United States," Astakhov said.
Some 1,800 Russian children were adopted in the United States last year, according to Russian officials. Some 3,000 U.S. families are estimated to be in various stages of adopting children now from Russia.