Russian prime minister: Russia and U.S. must identify real dangers, not imaginary

Monday, February 4th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Russia's prime minister said Monday after meeting with President Bush that the United States and Russia must work together to ``identify dangers, real dangers rather than imaginary,'' that threaten the world's stability.

The prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, refused to say whether he and Bush had specifically discussed Bush's labeling of Iraq, Iran and North Korea last week as ``an axis of evil.''

But his comments made clear that Russia will not necessarily accept U.S. claims that Iraq, Iran and North Korea are on the verge of creating weapons of mass destruction and support terrorism.

``We discussed all those issues which are in the Russian-U.S. agenda ... strategic stability and dealing with different conflicts in the world,'' Kasyanov told reporters after the White House meeting.

``Of course we should identify dangers, real dangers rather than imaginary,'' Kasyanov said. ``That's why we continue to work closely. Our defense people, our intelligence people exchange information and deal with those issues, so that we will be sure we correctly identify all problems.''

Bush, leaving the White House, did not comment on the Russian meeting.

Russia has supported the U.S. war in Afghanistan but could find itself in a difficult position if Washington decides to expand its anti-terror campaign. Moscow has strong ties to all three countries that Bush called an ``axis of evil.

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said last week that the United States will use its ``new and budding relationship with Russia'' to try to block Iraq's access to weapons technology.

But over the past week, senior Russia officials and lawmakers have said any unilateral U.S. moves to extend the anti-terror campaign beyond Afghanistan could jeopardize Russia's support.

At a security conference in Germany over the weekend, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov acknowledged that Iraq, Iran and North Korea might pose a threat to nonproliferation but said he had ``no data or information that would suggest the governments of those three countries support terrorism.''

Russia has long supported Iraq, backing Saddam Hussein's efforts to bring an end to U.N. sanctions imposed for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Russia is also Iraq's leading trading partner. Iraq owes Russia about $7 billion, and any new conflict between the United States and Iraq could jeopardize repayment.

But both Russia and the United States want smooth relations when Bush travels to Moscow in May for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Key issues are on the agenda then, including a possible final agreement on major nuclear arms cuts.

Putin also wants Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, a bid that would require strong support from Washington.