State Dept. scoffs at Russian criticisms of US human rights record

The State Department has a message for Russian officials intent on slamming America's human rights record: “Bring it on!”

The comments came in response to a new Russian Foreign Ministry report that argues the United States is in no position to lecture the world about human rights because of its own problems with social inequality, discrimination, prison overcrowding and other ills. 

The 56-page report — the first to focus on the United States since the fall of communism 20 years ago — is widely seen as tit-for-tat retaliation for U.S. criticism of Russia's questionable elections and crackdown on opponents to President Vladimir Putin.

“This country is an open book, and we have plenty of nongovernment organizations of our own that make assessments about our human rights and that represent to the government what they think needs to be done,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. 

“So from that perspective, whether it's a U.S. NGO watchdog or whether it's an international watchdog, bring it on! We're an open book and we want to continue to improve our society and we don't have any concern about being open to the world for observation, etc.”

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Deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations have become an issue in the presidential debate. Republican Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of bungling his effort to a “reset” relations with Russia. 

He has also criticized Obama for comments caught during a hot-mic conversation last March in which he told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev he would have more flexibility to address Russia's concerns with a European missile defense shield after the presidential election.

“I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr. Putin,” Romney said during Monday's presidential debate. “And I'm certainly not going to say to him, 'I'll give  you more flexibility after the election.' After the election, he'll get more backbone.”

Obama for his part has derided Romney for calling Russia America's “No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War has been over for 20 years,” he said Monday.

Still, relations with Russia continue to deteriorate. 

The country recently barred the U.S. Agency for International Development from funding civil society programs in the country. Russians are also livid that U.S. lawmakers have refused to grant the country normal trade status as a fellow member of the World Trade Organization, unless it's attached to legislation targeting Russian human rights abusers.