February 3rd 2002 · Reuters / John Chalmers · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS

U.S., Russia at Odds Over War on Terrorism

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Russia laid bare its differences with the United States over the war on terrorism on Sunday, challenging President Bush's attack on the "axis of evil" and accusing the West of double standards.

The cracks emerged at a security conference in Munich over the weekend as Washington, ratcheting up its rhetoric against Iraq and Iran, signaled it could take pre-emptive action.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the meeting Saturday that countries tolerating terrorism would be held to account and referred to the State of the Union address last week in which Bush described Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil" seeking weapons of mass destruction.

But Russia, which has better relations with all three, insists the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan must not be expanded to other countries and has been increasingly irritated by the American saber-rattling.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, in a blunt rebuff, told Wolfowitz and the other delegates Sunday there was no evidence that Iran had connections with terrorist organizations.

And he said Russia had its own list of "rogue states," naming U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, which Moscow says helps fund Chechen separatists fighting its own troops: "Not many people in the West like the fact that we have some commercial ties with the countries which you describe as rogue states," Ivanov said.

"Well, we don't like ... some of your allies like Saudi Arabia or Gulf states who give finance to terrorist organizations."

A Russian deal to build Iran a nuclear power station has been a regular target of criticism from Washington.


Ivanov also accused the West of "double standards" for failing to condemn the Chechens as "terrorists" with the same vigor as they pursue Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.

He warned that disagreements over who was counted a terrorist could undermine the U.S.-led coalition Russia has joined against the Islamists that the United States blames for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"What is our greatest concern today is the existence till the present time of double political standards with regard to separatism, religious extremism and fanaticism," Ivanov said.

Analysts say some U.S. policymakers, notably the hawkish Wolfowitz, may want to exploit the political momentum at home generated by outrage over the attacks to strike a decisive blow against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

But Wolfowitz told reporters Saturday that his comments did not mean the United States was about to strike Iraq.

The security conference came ahead of a meeting in Rome on Monday between NATO allies and Russia to discuss terrorism.

The 19 countries of the alliance -- spurred by Moscow's help in the war on terrorism, especially in providing intelligence -- agreed in December to establish a forum "at 20" in which Russia could have a full say in some security issues.

But with Bush's taking the war on terrorism to Afghanistan virtually alone, doubts about NATO's continued relevance since the collapse of the Soviet Union are being voiced again.

NATO Secretary General George Robertson, in a now familiar refrain, argued that the Western defense alliance still had a central role in dealing with the new, post-Cold War threats.

"Even superpowers need allies and coalitions to provide bases, fuel, airspace and forces. And they need mechanisms and experience to integrate these forces into a single coherent military capability," he told the Munich conference.

However, he said NATO must evolve, and one of the biggest challenges was the modernization of European and Canadian forces to ensure a fair sharing of the burden with the United States.


Appealing to European finance ministers, Robertson noted that Europe struggled to maintain its 50,000 peacekeeping troops in the Balkans and said hardly any country could deploy effective forces in significant numbers beyond its borders.

"American critics of Europe's military incapability are right," he said. "So if we are to ensure that the United States moves neither toward unilateralism or isolationism, all the non-U.S. allies -- Europeans and Canadians -- must show a new willingness to develop effective crisis management capability."

The NATO chief also urged Washington to ease "unnecessary restrictions" on foreigners acquiring American technology or face problems forming military coalitions with European forces.


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