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Bennett has a mission in Bucharest

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, is traveling to an international gathering of lawmakers to encourage the world to carefully watch how Russia implements a law restricting churches.

At the suggestion of the State Department, Bennett is making the trip next week, during a Senate recess, as a delegate to the North Atlantic Assembly meeting in Bucharest, Romania.The assembly is comprised of representatives from parliaments and congresses of the 16 member countries of NATO. Also, 16 associate member countries participate from central and eastern Europe.

"An important part of my participation in these meetings will be to reinforce the support of other nations for vigilant scrutiny of the implementation of the new Russian law," Bennett said.

That law restricts the ability of churches that have been in Russia for less than 15 years to own property or have foreign ministers and missionaries.

Before its enactment, Bennett traveled to Moscow to lobby against it, seek revisions and obtain promises that it would not be used against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and others churches that expanded there after the fall of communism.

"While leaders of the Russian parliament tried to assure me and Vice President Gore (on a separate trip he made) that the new law would not impact religions now operating in the county, I told them repeatedly that our analysis of its language was that it would have the opposite effect," Bennett said.

He added, "I have chosen to give them the benefit of the doubt at this point and monitor how the law is implemented.

"If its result is as they claim, then we will not object; but if its implementation does limit the operation of religions in the country, we will have cause for action," Bennett said.

Bennett earlier this year persuaded the Senate to pass a non-binding resolution threatening to cut foreign aid to Russia if it passed such a law.

Bennett said he will also discuss freedom of religion in general with lawmakers at the North Atlantic Assembly.

"Certainly, the United States is not alone in its commitment to religious freedom," he said. "It is a fundamental right held sacred by citizens all across the globe."

The president of the North Atlantic Assembly this year is U.S. Sen. William Roth, R-Del., who is also chairman of the U.S. delegation.