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Central Asia: Officials Debate Role In Retaliatory Strikes

Prague, 17 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone today with the presidents of ex-Soviet states in Central Asia and elsewhere regarding how to fight international terrorism in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks on the United States. Putin spoke with Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev, Kyrgyzstan's Askar Akaev, Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov, Azerbaijan's Heidar Alievk, and Ukraine's Leonid Kuchma.

The role of Central Asia in possible U.S. retaliatory strikes is coming under scrutiny as three of the states -- Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan -- border Afghanistan, home to Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the 11 September attacks.

Kyrgyzstan's Akaev arrived today in Vienna for talks with Austrian President Thomas Klestil on the situation in Central Asia.

In Uzbekistan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bakhodyr Umarov said his country would be willing to discuss cooperating with NATO in the fight against international terrorism.

In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, a Defense Ministry spokesman said such a move by Uzbekistan "may bring the conflict zone closer" to Kyrgyzstan.

Vladimir Rushailo, secretary of Russia's Security Council, started a tour of Central Asia today to discuss the situation in the region.

An Islamic press agency is reporting that Pakistani officials made no progress today in persuading the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden.

The Pakistani delegation, including intelligence chief Mahmood Ahmed, was expected to ask the Taliban to hand over bin Laden or risk a massive international retaliatory assault.

The Afghan Islamic Press agency quoted Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutamaen as saying that there was no "clear discussion" on the issue during talks between the Pakistanis and the Taliban in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

Mutamaen refused to provide details of the meeting between Pakistani officials and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Foreign Minister Maulawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawaki. But he said the Pakistani officials will travel to Kabul for further talks.

U.S. President George W. Bush and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw have recently said bin Laden is "a prime suspect" in orchestrating the terrorist attacks.