- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

MOSCOW Attorney General John Ashcroft and Russian law enforcement officials discussed ways yesterday to boost cooperation between their agencies to fight terrorism and transnational crime, including what they called the growing Afghan drug trade.

Mr. Ashcroft thanked the Russians for their cooperation in the anti-terrorism campaign, saying Russia was a "very important law enforcement partner in the world community."

He evaded a question on whether the U.S. government accepts the Russian government's contention that it is fighting international terrorists in Chechnya. Russian officials have blamed Islamic rebels for a series of bombings including a string of apartment building explosions in 1999 that killed about 300 people and a bomb blast last month in the Caspian Sea port of Kaspiisk that killed more than 40.

U.S. officials have previously criticized Russian troops' abuse of civilians in the conflict.

"The United States government believes that terrorism is an international threat, and that it is manifested in a variety of places and ways around the world," Mr. Ashcroft said.

"We have sought to cooperate with our Russian friends to curtail funding of terrorism that would threaten the interests of Russia, just as we have asked individuals and countries around the world to support the United States by curtailing the availability of funds to terrorists that threaten not only the United States but our allies and friends."

He and Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov discussed the cases of three Russian nationals, all inhabitants of Muslim-majority regions, who are among the hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters detained during the anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan and incarcerated at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The attorney general said his government was prepared to cooperate "in regard to other individuals who may or not be detained" raising the prospect of more Russian prisoners.

The Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky as saying that his department had received a report that two more Russian nationals had been brought to Guantanamo Bay.

Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Ustinov, with Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov joining them later, discussed improved law enforcement cooperation against terrorism, organized crime, money laundering and trafficking in humans. Mr. Gryzlov said he and Mr. Ashcroft also discussed international drug trade.

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