- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

Russia will back a U.S.-led coalition against terrorism without linking its support to progress on bilateral disputes over missile defense or Chechnya, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told U.S. officials yesterday.

"Russia, which has suffered all the atrocities of terror, is in full solidarity with the American people at this particular moment," Mr. Ivanov told reporters after a meeting yesterday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

He also met with President Bush during a visit hastily arranged after last week's attacks in New York and Washington

While saying U.S. officials have not proposed any "concrete actions," Mr. Ivanov added: "I have said that in combating international terrorism, no means can be excluded, including the use of force. "

But Moscow has been backing away in recent days from the unconditional support it offered in the first days after the Sept. 11 attack. At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered strong words of support, and many in Russia argued that the United States was battling the same Islamic fundamentalist forces Russia has fought in its campaign in Chechnya.

But the post-attack focus on a military action against Afghanistan and the discussion of using ex-Soviet Central Asian states on Russia's border as a staging ground for U.S. forces has caused alarm in Moscow.

Russian military chief of staff Anatoly Kvashnin told reporters on a visit to Tajikistan that Russia "is not participating in the military action [against Afghanistan] and has no plans to do so."

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has ruled out any NATO operation against Afghanistan from the Central Asian states, which Moscow considers part of its zone of influence.

Mr. Putin also dispatched his top security aide on a tour of the region this week to make Moscow's case against support for any unilateral U.S. strike.

"You may fight just those carrying out terrorist acts for as long as you want, but you won't solve the problem this way," said Vladimir Rushailo, Mr. Putin's security adviser, after a meeting with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov yesterday.

Uzbekistan, which is battling its own armed Islamic insurgency with links to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime, had suggested last week it would accept a U.S. force on its soil.

But after his meeting with Mr. Rushailo yesterday, Mr. Karimov told reporters, "We have not given any commitment to allow the use of our territory and airspace."

With Russia potentially one of the most valuable allies in the global war on terrorism, Bush administration officials preferred yesterday to focus on the positive.

Mr. Powell said he and Mr. Ivanov had discussed potential areas of cooperation including "law enforcement, military activity, legal actions, financial actions anything that can be used to get at these terrorist organizations."

He also thanked his Russian counterpart for the expressions of sympathy for victims of last week's attack from both the government and from ordinary Russians.

Mr. Powell said Mr. Ivanov had not tried to condition Russia's support for the U.S. anti-terrorism effort on concessions in ongoing disputes over U.S. plans for a missile defense shield or American criticism of Russia's campaign in Chechnya.

"They presented no linkages," Mr. Powell said. "They were very forthcoming, they want to be helpful, and they didn't put any requests with links on the table."

A senior State Department official went further, saying Mr. Ivanov in his talks did not "link or express any reservations about any kind of cooperation with Central Asian states we might want to have on terrorism."

The official said the question also did not come up in talks now under way between Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and officials in Moscow.

But Mr. Ivanov, following his meeting with President Bush, told reporters that the issues of Russian military assistance and the use of bases in Central Asia for U.S. forces had not come up in his talks.

While repeating past U.S. urgings for a political settlement in Chechnya, Mr. Powell appeared to soft-pedal past U.S. rhetoric against the campaign. Russian officials believe that the Chechen forces have close links to exiled Saudi financier Osama bin Laden, who is now in Afghanistan and has been fingered as the prime suspect in the U.S. attacks.

The Russians are "facing a difficult challenge in Chechnya," Mr. Powell said, "and we know it is a challenge they must respond to."

A clear subtext of Mr. Ivanov's remarks was message that the United States should avoid unilateral action.

The Bush administration has resisted appeals from Russia and a number of states that it give the United Nations a leading role in assembling the global coalition against terrorism and approving any retaliatory measures.

"Russia has always proposed an enhanced and wider international cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, for no single state, no matter how mighty and powerful it is, can cope with such an international phenomenon and scourge," Mr. Ivanov said.

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