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American Forces Press Service

Russian Defense Minister Cites Importance of Controlling WMDs

By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2005 - The fight to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction tops the list of issues Russian and U.S. defense officials are working together to solve, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said here Jan. 11.

Ivanov spoke at a joint news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

Explaining that the two defense chiefs were pursuing an agenda laid out by Presidents Bush and Putin at a Camp David meeting earlier this year, Ivanov listed some of the items on the "checklist" for U.S. and Russian officials.

Ivanov called the effort to keep WMDs from spreading is the "most conflict-free, clear and apparent area of our cooperation." On this issue, Ivanov said, "We do not have any contradictions whatsoever."

The most "overriding," issue Ivanov said, is Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS -- portable surface-to-air missiles that pose a threat to both military and civilian aircraft. "I believe this issue . to be fundamentally important not only for the United States-Russia relationship but also for global security as a whole," Ivanov said, stressing that "terrorists of all hues and stripes" would try to obtain access to MANPADS elsewhere.

An estimated 500,000 MANPADS are in existence today, many thousands of which are available on the black market and thereby accessible to terrorists or rogue states. MANPADS are attractive to terrorists and insurgents because they are lethal, highly portable and concealable, inexpensive and fairly simple to operate, DoD officials said.

The defense minister addressed concerns that Soviet-made MANPADS, which are part of the inventories of many countries around the world, now pose a threat to U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ivanov agreed that Soviet-made MANPADS did enjoy wide distribution to Central and Eastern European states, but countered that only "negligible" numbers were present in Afghanistan. He said the production and storage of Russian MANPADS are now rigidly controlled.

Among the other issues discussed were improved defense and security cooperation, further reductions in offensive arms, and missile defense. During their meetings, Rumsfeld invited Russia to participate in a U.S.-based military exercise this April on nuclear safety, particularly with regard to the transportation of nuclear munitions. Ivanov said Russia would be pleased to participate.

In response to questions from the media, Rumsfeld and Ivanov agreed that care must be taken to avoid releasing detainees captured in the global war on terror who would simply return to the battlefield to continue their fight against coalition forces.

Rumsfeld said five to 10 detainees previously released "turned up back on the battlefield, trying to kill coalition and Afghan people." Ivanov cited the case of a Danish national who, on the day after his release from custody, vowed on state television to kill innocent civilians in Chechnya.

Ivanov called the recent tsunami in Asia a "colossal catastrophe," citing ways in which Russia was working to aid the victims and deliver humanitarian assistance. He said any Russian uneasiness over NATO expansion to states of the former Soviet Union was "a thing of the past," and agreed with Rumsfeld that terrorists would do whatever they could to depress turnout in the upcoming elections in Iraq on Jan. 30.

This was Ivanov's sixth visit to the Pentagon and the 18th meeting between the two defense chiefs. As a result of the meetings, Ivanov said Russia and the United States now have "more cooperation, more confidence, and better transparency" in sensitive areas.

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