U.S., NATO, Russia Partner in Terrorism Fight
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2001 Whatever happens from now on in the struggle against global terrorism, the United States knows it can rely on its fellow NATO members, and Russia, as allies.
The United States received "very strong affirmation of support" from its NATO allies and from Russia's defense minister, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told reporters late Sept. 26.
Winging home after attending a day of defense meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Wolfowitz noted to reporters that he had "good discussions" with Turkish, British, French and Italian NATO defense ministers, and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov.
"The discussion with Ivanov was almost entirely about counterterrorism. And, clearly, (the Russians) are ready to offer all kinds of help, advice and cooperation," Wolfowitz said. He said he had remarked to the ministers over dinner that, in the United States' view, the events of Sept. 11 make missile defense and cooperation with Russia "more important than ever."
Before the terror attacks, Wolfowitz said, NATO members and senior Russian officials had realized "that one of the areas of common interest on which a new strategic framework could be constructed is a common interest in countering terrorism."
During an evening press conference with NATO Secretary- General George Lord Robertson at NATO headquarters, Ivanov said to reporters through an interpreter that Russia had proposed an anti-terrorism initiative five years ago.
"We drew up a mandate for the Permanent Joint Council between NATO and Russia and we actually put forward the subject of terrorism as a possible area of cooperation, and that is what we're doing at the moment," Ivanov said.
Ivanov said Russia has in past years assisted the Afghan Northern Alliance in its fight to unseat the Taliban government. Many Taliban members had fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Taliban is alleged to have been helping Osama bin Laden, the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, and his al Qaeda terrorist network.
Ivanov said Russia has assured NATO members that it has no ulterior political motives in aiding the rebel Northern Alliance. "Today, I think, virtually, unanimously, we acknowledge that we must strengthen cooperation as much as possible in this area of combating international terrorism," he said.
The Sept. 11 attacks on the United States represent a blatant example of the threat posed by global terrorism, Ivanov said. The Russians, he added, will join with NATO in fighting international terrorism, noting his country has also had "direct experience of terrorism."
Ivanov remarked that he and NATO ministers stressed the importance of not giving the terrorists "any grounds for accusing us that we are attacking Islam in general," adding that Russia is a country where "many nationalities live and many are of the Muslim faith."
Echoing Ivanov's concerns, Wolfowitz noted the importance of preventing the fight against terrorism from being perceived as "Muslims vs. the rest of us, or NATO vs. the Muslim world." He observed that five times in the past decade "NATO has defended Muslims who were victims of aggression or victims of war-induced starvation."
The day after the Sept. 11 terror attacks against New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, NATO's Council in Permanent Session for the first time invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, Robertson remarked during a Sept. 26 NATO press conference. The article states that a foreign attack against one NATO member is an attack on all.
Wolfowitz said he explained to the NATO and Russian defense ministers why the United States is convinced that bin Laden and his organization are responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
"A lot of what I told them is simply in the public record," Wolfowitz said, adding that "some number" of the 19 hijackers have been linked to bin Laden's network, which has been implicated in the 1998 attack on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, last year's attack on the USS Cole and other incidents.
The Russian response "has not only been befitting a major partner of this alliance, but has also been the reaction of a real and genuine friend. And all of the allied nations and their defense ministers appreciated this very much," Robertson said during the Ivanov press conference.
On Sept. 13, NATO and Russia jointly condemned "the cowardly acts against the United States on Sept. 11," Robertson said. "We are united in our determination to work together in fighting the scourge of international terrorism," he emphasized.
The other 18 NATO members are the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Greece, Belgium, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Turkey, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Portugal and Poland.