Russia gives green light to Central Asian republics to cooperate with US

Wednesday, September 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Russia's foreign minister told Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday that Moscow would not object if the United States enlists the former Soviet republics of Central Asia into its war against terrorism, a senior State Department official said.

Such a commitment by Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov could provide a major boost for the Bush administration as it seeks international allies for the effort prompted by last week's terror attacks.

Three Central Asian countries _ Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan _ share a border with Afghanistan. But all have expressed reservations about allowing the United States and other foreign forces to operate on their respective territories in the effort to hunt down Afghan-based terrorists.

Saud al-Faisal, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, said Wednesday after a meeting with Powell that while the world needs to eliminate terrorism, ``We can't fight terrorism by being vengeful.''

``It is not vengeance that the world wants,'' Saud said, in an apparent appeal to the United States to use force judiciously in the terrorism fight.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Saud told Powell his government wants to be part of the global anti-terror coalition that Powell has proposed.

He said Saud assured Powell his country recognizes that ``the danger is to all of us.''

Ivanov and Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, both also visiting Washington on Wednesday, promised in separate meetings with Powell to contribute to the anti-terror effort.

``The global effort must begin as early as today,'' Ivanov said. A broad range of options should be considered, he said, including the use of force ``when and if it is necessary.''

The United States undoubtedly would like a cooperative effort with one or more of the three former Soviet republics that border Afghanistan, the early focus of the U.S. campaign because of the presence there of suspected terror kingpin Osama bin Laden.

Until Wednesday, the Kremlin had not gone on record about the U.S. forces in the Central Asian countries, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which Russia considers its backyard. Russian officials, worried about a spillover of violence from Afghanistan, had indicated they would not welcome U.S. use of the area for operations in Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov said Wednesday he has received no request from the United States but would be willing to talk. On the table, he said, could be ``issues concerning a joint struggle against (terrorist) centers, camps and bases set up in Afghanistan and on other territories.''

Russian officials were in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for talks with President Emomali Rakhmonov. Officials in Tajikistan, which has 25,000 Russian troops on its territory, have expressed fears that U.S. strikes on Afghanistan could unsettle the volatile area.

In Washington, Ivanov said Russia and the United States have not discussed specific actions Russia and the United States may take together in response to the terrorist attacks last week. Bin Laden, hiding out in Afghanistan, is the prime suspect.

Germany's Fischer, who planned to meet later Wednesday with President Bush, said after a morning meeting with Powell that Germany is in full solidarity with the American people in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 acts.

He said he was not in a position to spell out how far Germany would go in helping the U.S. quest for the perpetrators, but ``we do not rule out any option.''

The United States is using a carrot-and-stick approach _ rewarding friends and punishing nations that don't sign up for a fierce new war on terrorism.

``In different nations the carrot may be bigger; in other nations, the stick may be bigger,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday.

Afghanistan is clearly the main recipient of the stick so far: the administration has warned the ruling Taliban militia in Kabul that it faces military attacks for harboring bin Laden.

Fellow Muslim countries Pakistan, Indonesia and Jordan _ perhaps even Sudan _ may get carrots.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said Pakistan should be rewarded for helping the United States pressure the Taliban militia to turn over bin Laden and for agreeing to provide airspace rights for possible U.S. military action against Pakistan's northern neighbor.

Pakistan has been under U.S. sanctions because of its nuclear weapons program and the ouster of its democratic government two years ago by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the current president.

Indonesia and Jordan, which both have strongly criticized the terror attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, may find heightened U.S. interest in concluding proposed trade agreements.

For Indonesia, there also may be the possibility of renewing military ties, suspended at the time of the upheaval in East Timor. Those issues were on the agenda Wednesday for the visit of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Elsewhere, the United States has been looking for ways to stop Sudan's protracted civil war, but previously had little leverage with the Islamic government in Khartoum. In May, Bush called Sudan ``a disaster for all human rights,'' blaming the government.

But Sudan issued a strong statement of support for the United States after the twin attacks last week, which prompted Secretary of State Colin Powell to place a friendly call to the Sudanese foreign minister on Wednesday _ an extremely rare high-level communication.