United Nations, 24 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Russia has brought its dispute with the West over political-asylum issues to the podium of the UN General Assembly, urging an end to what it calls "double standards" on terrorism.
Western officials have raised concern over Russia's policies in Chechnya and stressed the need for a negotiated political settlement to the Chechen conflict. Britain and the United States have granted asylum to aides of Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov, whom Russia has labeled a terrorist.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday renewed his government's objection to those moves, saying they undermine global antiterrorism efforts. "Harboring terrorists, their connivers, and sponsors undermines the unity and mutual trust among participants in the antiterrorist front, justifies actions of terrorists, and actually encourages them to commit the same crimes in other countries," he said.
Lavrov also asserted Russia's right to protect its security, an apparent reference to Western concerns over recent moves by Russian President Vladimir Putin to centralize political power in the Kremlin. "We will not let anybody encroach on the sovereignty of our state, we will resolutely strengthen the unity of the country and its people in order to counter terror, to guarantee a secure and decent life to our citizens in freedom and democracy," Lavrov said.
Most of the foreign minister's 15-minute address dealt with terrorism. He outlined a series of ways that international bodies -- centering on the UN -- could improve collective counterterror efforts.
Russia circulated a draft Security Council resolution aimed at speeding the handover of people accused of abusing their status as political refugees to organize or finance terrorist acts. It also suggested compiling a UN blacklist of individuals, groups, and entities involved in terrorism. They would face an assets freeze, an arms embargo, and "expedited extradition."
There has been friction between Britain and Russia over Britain granting asylum to Akhmed Zakaev, a spokesman for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. But British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, speaking to the General Assembly after Lavrov, expressed support for the Russian initiative as a way of ending any abuses of refugee status.
"We shall therefore -- the United Kingdom -- be working closely with the Russia Federation on its important draft Security Council resolution to see how best we can prevent those who commit, support, and finance terrorism from sheltering behind a refugee status to which they are not entitled and we wish to, with the Russian Federation and other partners on the Security Council, to look at ways to ensure the speedier extradition of such individuals," Straw said.
A Security Council committee currently compiles only a list of people and groups linked to the Al-Qaeda network and the Taliban. It seeks to freeze their assets, block their travel, and stop them from acquiring arms.
The Russian initiative came after a day of speeches by major UN members who said the reform of UN bodies, particularly the Security Council, was crucial to improving efforts at countering terrorism and stopping the proliferation of destructive weapons.
"It is a sad reality that international networks of terror appear to cooperate more effectively among themselves than the democratic nations that they target."
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose country is campaigning for a permanent Security Council seat, spoke of the inadequacy of current international efforts against terror networks. "It is a sad reality that international networks of terror appear to cooperate more effectively among themselves than the democratic nations that they target," he said. "We speak about cooperation but seem often hesitant to commit ourselves to a truly global offensive to root out terrorism."
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier formally backed India, Germany, Japan, and Brazil for full Security Council membership. He said such an expansion would give the council greater legitimacy as it tries to handle new threats.
France has been among the European nations seeking to negotiate a solution to the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. Without naming states, Barnier expressed concern over the weakening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"Global threats require a strong and always collective response. The threat of proliferation, which is liable to merge with terrorism, calls for resolute and sustained action. The nonproliferation regime has been seriously undermined by the combined action of certain states and non-state actors," Barnier said.
Iran says it is only interested in peaceful uses of nuclear power. But it has kept a number of its nuclear activities secret for years. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is to address the General Assembly today.