- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2002

ASTANA, Kazakhstan (AP) Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met yesterday with the rulers of two former Soviet republics in Central Asia to bolster support both for the war in nearby Afghanistan and for U.S. efforts to deny al Qaeda fighters any new sanctuaries.
Mr. Rumsfeld stopped in Turkmenistan to see President Saparmurat Niyazov and then flew to Kazakhstan's capital for talks with President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Today, Mr. Rumsfeld was to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Moscow to discuss the war on terrorism, progress toward an arms control agreement and preparations for President Bush's meeting with President Vladimir Putin in late May.
In Astana, Kazakhstan's defense chief, Gen. Col. Mukhtar Altynbayev, said his government planned to increase its involvement in Afghanistan.
He mentioned transporting and donating humanitarian aid as well as working out an agreement so U.S. and allied aircraft could use at least one Kazakh airfield in the event of emergency. Kazakhstan already allows coalition aircraft to use its airspace.
Kazakhstan also will send at least three military officers to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., to coordinate the humanitarian aid work for Afghanistan, Mr. Altynbayev said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said Kazakhstan plays an important role in the international coalition against terrorism.
"We are anxious to do everything we possibly can to see that Afghanistan does not go back to becoming a haven for terrorists or sanctuary for terrorists," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
In Turkmenbashi, a port city on the Caspian Sea, Mr. Rumsfeld thanked Mr. Niyazov for allowing U.S. and allied planes to use Turkmenistan's airspace and for the country's role in supporting humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
"Their humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan have undoubtedly saved lives of Afghan people," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld also met with his Turkmen counterpart, Redzhebai Arazov, and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov.
About a third of all food aid reaching Afghanistan since the United States began its war in October against the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network has gone through Turkmenistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he and Mr. Niyazov did not discuss bin Laden or al Qaeda.
The only U.S. military presence in Turkmenistan is a small group of troops that operate refueling aircraft for cargo planes carrying aid into Afghanistan.

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