- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

Russia said yesterday it would reconsider its opposition to NATO expansion if it is part of the process, and it agreed to meet with the Western alliance on a monthly basis to coordinate the fight against terrorism and discuss other security matters.

The United States, meanwhile, made formal requests of the alliance for cooperation on intelligence, protection of U.S. installations in NATO countries, unlimited overflight rights and airspace surveillance, as part of the campaign against Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network, accused by Washington of perpetrating last month's attacks.

The State Department said Russia had received "the same briefing" on the U.S. investigation into the attacks as had NATO, which on Tuesday formally invoked its mutual defense clause after seeing "clear and compelling evidence" of bin Laden's involvement in the attacks.

Francis Taylor, the top U.S. counterterrorism official who presented the information to the North Atlantic Council, "also briefed the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at a news briefing.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said he and visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin have identified new areas for collaboration, "only some of them arising out of the need to combat terrorism."

Mr. Putin said NATO and Russia will set up "a body to examine" their "qualitative relationship."

"As for NATO expansion, one can take another, an entirely new look at this," he said during a joint news conference with European Union leaders. "If NATO takes on a different shade and becomes a political organization, of course we would reconsider our position with regard to such expansion if we were to feel involved in such processes."

Moscow has repeatedly voiced opposition to NATO enlargement further east and has warned especially against the inclusion of the three former Soviet Baltic republics Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

NATO is expected to invite new members at its November 2002 summit in Prague. The leaders of the 10 candidates will meet tomorrow in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, to encourage expansion. Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov said yesterday that the Sept. 11 attacks "should serve as a catalyst for NATO's political enlargement."

Mr. Boucher told reporters at the State Department that the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, yesterday gave other allied governments "specifics" about what they can do in the campaign against bin Laden, but he refused to reveal the content of the list.

"I think there is frankly considerable consensus already on the kinds of steps that we can take," he said.

Asked whether those requests involved military assistance, Mr. Boucher responded: "If I say yes, don't read too much into it. By definition, NATO is a military defensive alliance. That does not mean that we've asked people to contribute troops to a particular operation, or that we've decided that, if we carry out military action, it has to be NATO military action.

"There is a great deal that NATO does, that we do with each other, to make sure that the basis is there, should our president decide to take action on behalf of the United States, a few allies whatever configuration he might desire," Mr. Boucher said.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in Berlin the requests were addressed to the alliance as a whole, not to individual member-states.

NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur said the United States had not set a deadline for its allies to respond to the requests

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