Nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization voiced support Friday for the United States in the fight against terrorism. But the meeting in Kazakhstan also seemed to be seeking support by equating terrorism with separatist movements. Our correspondent Michael Lelyveld reports from Almaty.
Almaty, 15 September 2001 (RFE/RL) --Russia, China and four Central Asian nations issued a statement Friday strongly condemning the terrorist attack on the United States and pledging their help against what they called "this evil."
The prime ministers from the six countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security group formed in 1996, said, "We are grieving with the American people, and we express our deep and sincere sympathy to all those who have lost their relatives and friends as a result of this tragedy."
They went on: "We are ready to cooperate with all countries and international organizations in undertaking effective measures for fighting without concession against the global danger of terrorism. Only the united efforts of all nations can fight and win against this evil."
Last June, a summit meeting of the Shanghai group, known as the SCO, concluded with a statement opposing U.S. efforts to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and to build a national missile defense. The stand promoted by Russia and China raised concerns among some U.S. analysts that the SCO would turn into a bloc against American interests.
The organization also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
But the attacks on New York and Washington seem to have given the group an occasion to restate its security goals in terms of agreement with the United States.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov was asked whether the SCO would support an act of retaliation against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan if he was shown to be responsible. He said: "The reading of this statement implies that the support will be given to rightful retaliation to the groups which support, sponsor and carry out terrorist acts around the globe."
But individual SCO prime ministers including China's Zhu Rongji said little on the subject of U.S. retaliation in their brief press appearances.
The SCO has previously equated terrorism with separatist clashes that concern its individual members, such as Russia's conflict over Chechnya, China's fears about its Uighur minority and attacks in Central Asia by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
By spreading its message to cover terrorist threats to the United States, the SCO seems to be seeking support for its efforts as much as it is offering support.
While Idrisov said the earlier statement opposing a national missile defense system was "still valid," it should be viewed within the context of "dialogue" between the major powers.
He also denied that the SCO had become an anti-U.S. bloc. "We do not think in categories of blocs. We are thinking in categories of developing regional cooperation, regional stability, regional integration which will complement global stability, global integration and global partnership."
Although the Shanghai club has focused on security, its loose terms of mutual interest are also shifting toward economics.
The first gathering of SCO prime ministers in Almaty produced a long list of goals, including the creation of frameworks for regular ministerial and working group meetings. The countries said they would cooperate in a host of areas from trade and investment to energy, transportation and the environment.
Critics have said that such general statements accomplish little, but the SCO does appear to be increasing its scope.
Later on Friday, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev also hosted a second meeting of prime ministers as part of the Eurasian Economic Community, a group with a slightly different membership but many of the same objectives.
The five-member EEC, founded last October, includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus. Its aim is to salvage the remnants of the CIS customs union and the abortive ruble zone by promoting integration and a single economic space.
The Almaty meeting of the EEC appears to have made some progress toward establishing a permanent secretariat and structure. But otherwise, most of its activity was confined to a repetition of goals. An official said that the group had agreed to a budget of 83 million rubles ($2.8 million), suggesting that its operations will remain modest in the near term.
In a phone interview, Martha Olcott, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the EEC could prove useful for negotiating issues such as tax and tariff harmonization, particularly if Russia and Kazakhstan seek to join the World Trade Organization at the same time.