- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

The United States and Russia moved toward mutual accommodation this week as their interests converged in the fight against terrorism, however they may define its meaning.
After Washington refrained from criticizing Moscow's silence on the deadly gas it had used in its standoff with Chechen hostage takers last week, a U.S. official said yesterday the State Department was "looking at Chechen groups for possible inclusion" in its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The blacklisting of such groups would be a significant victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been trying so far unsuccessfully to convince the West that the guerrillas fighting for Chechnya's independence from Moscow are terrorists.
The United States and Europe have repeatedly rebuked Russia in the past for violating the Chechens' human rights. But since the September 11 attacks last year, Washington has been slowly warming up to Moscow's campaign in the breakaway republic.
The Russian government on Wednesday finally identified the powerful painkiller Fentanyl as the agent it used to end the hostage crisis in a Moscow theater on Saturday. The gas has so far killed more than 100 of the freed hostages.
The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Vershbow, was the only American official to criticize the government for not disclosing the name of the gas at least to the doctors who treated the victims, saying on Tuesday that the silence had delayed treatment and "perhaps" caused deaths.
The next day, the State Department refused to echo Mr. Vershbow's concern. A senior official said the Russian authorities had done "what we wanted them to do" by identifying the gas and there was no point in criticizing them for something they had corrected.
In a gesture to the United States yesterday, Russia scolded North Korea for failing to offer a sufficient explanation for breaking a 1994 nuclear agreement by developing a secret nuclear-weapons program.
Moscow initially reacted cautiously to the U.S. announcement that Pyongyang had admitted last month to having a clandestine program, saying it would wait and see for itself exactly what North Korea was doing.
The North's admission, according to Washington, came after it was confronted with intelligence by James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific affairs, during his Oct. 3-5 visit to Pyongyang.
But following a meeting with North Korean officials in Moscow yesterday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said he found North Korea's explanation insufficient.
"There is some ambiguity in the statements by North Korean representatives," Mr. Losyukov was quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax news agency. "In our view, such ambiguity is very dangerous because it leads to mutual suspicions and can negatively affect the situation on the Korean Peninsula."
In Washington, the State Department obviously liked what it heard, although it tried to follow its policy of not commenting directly on meetings between two countries in which the United States does not participate.
"We are obviously pleased to see that the international community is so together on this issue," spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
He noted that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had found in his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov last week in Mexico "the same kind of sentiment as expressed by the Japanese and South Koreans on the need to resolve this issue before North Korea could expect anything from the international community."
Russia, despite its clear interest in improving relations with the United States, has close ties with North Korea, even 11 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pyongyang's leader, Kim Jong-il, visited Mr. Putin this summer for the second year in a row.
"Our goal all along is to make sure that the whole international community was making clear to North Korea that its aspirations for assistance, opportunities and relationships would not be realized if they wanted to continue to develop these weapons," said Mr. Boucher.
But Mr. Losyukov said yesterday that the U.S. position needed more clarity, because "the Russian side has not yet received any convincing evidence of the existence of such a program."
The thorniest issue in the otherwise warming between the United States and Russia remains Iraq, although yesterday Russian diplomats appeared more conciliatory than in the past during the ongoing negotiations at the United Nations on a Security Council resolution.
But they said they still had problems with the text, particularly what France, Russia and China call "hidden triggers" in the U.S.-British-sponsored draft that would allow Washington to start a military strike against Iraq, overthrow President Saddam Hussein and then claim that it had United Nations authorization.
All five countries are permanent, veto-holding members of the council, which now appears unlikely to vote on the resolution until next week.

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