The United States has repeatedly voiced concerns over the alleged erosion of democracy and human rights in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin, in turn, has warned against outside interference, and condemns the use of NGOs by foreign states to influence domestic policy.
Rice's meeting in the U.S. Embassy, attended by several heads of NGOs, appeared likely to further strain tensions with Moscow. However, according to one of the officials present at the talks, she avoided making judgments on the rights situation in Russia.
Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, told RIA Novosti: "She did not give an assessment. Those present gave their evaluation of the situation as a whole, and discussed particular areas of human rights violations."
Brod said the meeting was attended by eight rights leaders including Russia's human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, formerly Russian ambassador to the United States, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Svetlana Gannushkina, who heads an assistance group for refugees.
At the talks, Rice pledged Washington's support to rights officials in building institutions that support "the rights of individuals to liberty and freedom, the right to worship as you please, the right to assembly, and the right to not have to deal with the arbitrary power of the state."
The state secretary is expected to hold meetings with Russian media and business representatives later in the day.
On Friday Rice and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with President Putin, and held "two-plus-two" negotiations with their Russian counterparts aimed at overcoming an on-running dispute over U.S. plans to deploy missile defense elements in Central Europe, and a deadlock on a Soviet-era arms control treaty.
Rice said the sides failed to overcome their differences, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the U.S. ministers had offered proposals to end the missile shield dispute, but that these measures were inadequate.
Robert Gates is expected to meet with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov later on Saturday, and visit the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Military Academy.