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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin children's rights ombudsman said on Tuesday Russia could outlaw foreign adoptions if the United States did not agree to a treaty governing adoptions of Russian children by American parents.
Moscow is pushing for an adoption treaty after a U.S. woman sent her 7-year-old adopted son back to Russia alone on a plane earlier this month, shocking both Russians and Americans and stoking long-standing tension over the issue.
Pavel Astakhov told Reuters that the government would take legislative steps to formalize a freeze on adoptions by U.S. families if the United States did not agree to such a treaty in principle by mid-May and set a deadline for its signing.
But with emotions high after the return by a Tennessee nurse of Artyom Savelyev -- put on a transatlantic flight with a note describing him as mentally unstable and violent -- he said Russian lawmakers could go further and bar foreign adoptions.
"It is better to resolve this issue within the law than to seek changes in the law and face the reality that international adoptions could be prohibited altogether," Astakhov said.
His remarks in an interview appeared aimed to increase pressure on the United States ahead of visit by U.S. consular diplomats this week to discuss adoption.
Astakhov said Russia would hand the U.S. delegation the proposed text of the treaty, and expect a clear response at a subsequent meeting he said would take place on May 12.
"For us, it will be sufficient if they agree to sign such a treaty, accept the draft as a basis, and set a timetable for signing the treaty," Astakhov said.
If the United States baulks at those conditions, he said, the government will seek legislation to protects its interests -- a move he said could have unpredictable results.
"Parliament has spoken out in favor of closing international adoptions altogether," he said. "And that is done very easily - it's just changing one line in the law."
Parliament is dominated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party and observers say it makes no major decisions without Kremlin support.
President Dmitry Medvedev has called Savelyev's return a "monstrous deed," but he is cultivating better ties with the United States and seeking to burnish Russia's image worldwide.
Astakhov said the proposed pact would help ensure the well-being of adopted children from Russia by giving Russian authorities greater access to information about their treatment.
"Russia can no longer allow itself to give away its children without any guarantees," said Astakhov, who was well known as a lawyer, author and TV personality before his appointment as the president's children's rights ombudsman.
The return of Savelyev, now eight, touched a raw nerve among Russians, some of whom have seen the wave of adoptions by Americans since the 1991 Soviet collapse as a humiliation.
Moscow tightened the rules for foreign adoptions after several Russian-born children died as a result of abuse by their adoptive parents in the United States.
Advocates of foreign adoptions point out that such cases are exceptions and say that children also face abuse at the hands of adoptive Russian parents and in state orphanages.
Russia was the third largest source of foreign adoptions to the United States last year, with 1,585, according to the State Department -- down from a peak of 5,863 in 2004.
Amid mixed signals from Russian authorities on whether U.S. adoptions have been frozen following Savelyev's return, Astakhov said they "are being halted de facto" saying court hearings on pending cases had been postponed.
Editing by Ralph Boulton