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Central Asia: Shanghai Cooperation Organization Ends Summit

The presidents of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member countries today finished their two-day summit in Shanghai, the city where the alliance was created five years ago. The group, commonly known as the "Shanghai Five," admitted a sixth member during the summit. It also released a statement pledging cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The group's next step is to seek recognition by the United Nations.

Prague, 15 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of the so-called "Shanghai Five" -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- today concluded their summit in Shanghai after welcoming a new member, Uzbekistan, and signing an agreement on fighting terrorism and extremism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a post-summit press conference, talked about the significance of the regional alliance, which has now been officially renamed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO: "I am convinced that this new union will serve a more rational and more effective use of the potentials of our governments. It will provide for the strengthening of peace and stability in Central Asia. It is not an accident that the motto of the new organization is 'Security through cooperation.'"

Security was the central issue of this year's summit. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, in his post-summit remarks, said the threat of terrorism and extremism is not confined to the Central Asian region:

"We declare once again that the threat facing Central Asia today is a threat facing the whole of Eurasia. The source nourishing terrorism and extremism is the instability in Afghanistan." Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin have pointed to Muslim separatists in their own countries -- Chechens and Uighurs, respectively -- as a source of ongoing instability. Both leaders have portrayed their domestic conflicts as international in origin, saying they are fueled by extremist networks based in Afghanistan.

During the summit, the six members signed an agreement pledging to back Russia and China in their regional conflicts. The added support of the neighboring Central Asian countries -- which are predominantly Muslim -- may help both Russia and China in dealing with what they perceive as an organized extremist threat.

China and Russia also gained backing in their opposition to plans by the United States to develop and deploy a missile defense system. The pledge comes just one day before Putin's first face-to-face meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush on Saturday.

The group's final statement called the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- from which the U.S. is hoping to withdraw -- a cornerstone of stability, peace, and nuclear deterrence. It said the group would reject any U.S. plan to amend or abandon the ABM Treaty.

In return, the Central Asian nations received promises of support in their own areas of conflict. Another extremist group -- the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan -- has been causing concern in the region for the last two years. Islam Karimov, president of new SCO member Uzbekistan, said he was confident the alliance could resolve key security issues in Central Asia:

"Naturally, there will be stability and peace in Central Asia. The great needs will be met. We will realize the possibilities that exist in the Central Asian region."

The agreement in Shanghai to open an anti-terrorist center in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek provides at least moral support to the Central Asian governments. A CIS rapid-reaction force was already created last month at a meeting of the CIS Collective Security Treaty states -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus, and Armenia. A unit of some 2,000 soldiers from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan is expected to be ready by the start of August to fight any potential insurgencies in Central Asia. The SCO anti-terrorist center, in turn, may do little more than coordinate information between the six member states. An additional summit agreement stipulates that China, in theory, can send troops into Central Asia at the request of one or more of the Central Asian states in the SCO.

The organization will now seek international recognition. Russian President Putin said the regional alliance can serve as an example to other nations:

"We are confident that the example -- of good relations among neighbors and a mutually advantageous partnership across the wide space from Europe to the Pacific Ocean, which the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are demonstrating -- will be positively received by the world community. According to the general consensus, which we reached yesterday in our closed session with the leaders, the material [to register for formal status] will be officially handed over to the United Nations."

The presidents seemed content for now to leave the organization's membership at six countries. Officials from the original five member countries have said repeatedly that the organization, though based on geographical links, is open to all nations which share the group's goals. But Putin's special representative, Vitaly Borobyev, said entry bids by India and Pakistan would not be considered in the near future, because these states "are not related to the given region."

The summit received broadly positive coverage in the Chinese press, for the SCO is the only international group founded by China. Chinese President Jiang is reported to have suggested the city for next year's summit, which by rotation is to be held in Russia. Jiang, well aware of Putin's origins, proposed St. Petersburg -- an idea supported by all the presidents in attendance.