- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

An expanded U.S.-Russia counterterrorism working group met for the first time yesterday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and his Russian counterpart leading the inaugural meeting.
Mr. Armitage and Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov were to sit down with "a significant number of senior foreign policy, security and military officials" from both sides, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
It was the eighth meeting of the group, which was originally called the Working Group on Afghanistan.
The name was changed to the U.S.-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism during the Bush-Putin Summit in May 2002 in Moscow.
The Working Group "is an important forum for enhancing U.S.-Russia cooperation to deal with terrorist threats worldwide," Mr. Boucher said.
Few details of the group's agenda or its deliberations have ever been made public.
One State Department official said the agenda appeared to be "freewheeling."
Russian and American officials began their series of meetings over the threat posed to Central Asia by Afghanistan when it was ruled by the Taliban.
Russia feared that the Taliban was allowing the training of Islamic militants to create hard-line Islamic states in Central Asian former Soviet republics such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and in Russian regions of the Caucasus such as Chechnya.
Since pro-Western Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban, aided by U.S. air strikes after the September 11 attacks, Russia and the United States have turned attention to cooperation over the wider issues of terrorism, weapons proliferation and narcotics.
The meeting yesterday was "the first one with the broadened mandate endorsed by presidents Bush and Putin in Moscow," said the State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"Reflecting its new mandate, the working group will also focus on combating nuclear, biological and chemical terrorism," Mr. Boucher said.
"Afghanistan is certainly one of the central issues for the group because of the cooperation that we have on the terrorism that came out of Afghanistan, and the need to continue to work on al Qaeda, and the worldwide problems that this kind of terrorism presents," he said.
"So they'll be talking about other regions that are coping with terrorism and instability, such as Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, worldwide counterterrorism efforts."
After the sixth working group meeting, held in Washington in February, the joint statement released by the State Department said, "U.S.-Russian military cooperation as part of counterterrorist operations in Afghanistan has been invaluable and unprecedented, and has directly contributed to the successes realized in the global war on terrorism."

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