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Bush calls Putin about hostage standoff

U.S. labels incident 'terrorism'

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

Police stand outside a theater in Moscow where hundreds of hostages are being held.
Police stand outside a theater in Moscow where hundreds of hostages are being held.

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (CNN) - President Bush called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, labeling the hostage standoff in Moscow an act of "terrorism," and telling the Russian leader the United States stands in solidarity with him and the Russian people.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush "knows and understands" that Putin has decided to stay at home and not attend this weekend's annual Asian Pacific economic summit, being held this year at Los Cabos, Mexico.

A group of Chechen rebels stormed a theater in Moscow Wednesday night and took about 700 people inside hostage. The militants are demanding that Russia pull its troops out of Chechnya.

Wednesday night, National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack told CNN: "The American government and the American people are with the people of Russia at this difficult moment. There are no causes or national aspirations that justify the taking of innocent hostages. We condemn terrorism in all its forms."

McCormack added: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the hostages and their families."

Bush was scheduled to have a one-on-one meeting with Putin to discuss Iraq and North Korea, in addition to bilateral economic and security issues. U.S. officials said Bush would have further telephone discussions on those issues, if necessary.

-- CNN Senior Executive Producer Danielle Whelton contributed to this report.

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