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U.S.: Powell Sets Off On Grueling Trip To Europe, Central Asia

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Europe today at the start of a grueling tour of 10 capitals in eight days. Top of his agenda will be the war on terrorism and post-Taliban Afghanistan, but also Russia's ties with the United States and NAT0. As RFE/RL correspondent Jeffrey Donovan reports, Russia and NATO may forge a new relationship this week.

Washington, 4 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Europe today on a tour to include key NATO meetings with Russia as well as talks on the U.S.-led war against terrorism and post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The first stop on Powell's 10-city, eight-day trip is Bucharest, where he is set to attend a summit of the foreign ministers of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Powell's trip then takes him to the capitals of Turkey, Belgium, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Germany, France, and Britain.

The State Department says Powell's main mission will be to consult with the leaders of those countries on efforts to rebuild post-Taliban Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism. But it will also involve key contacts with Russia as Powell is set to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov three times -- in Bucharest, Ankara, and Moscow.

Unlike last year's OSCE summit in Vienna, where a final declaration was derailed by Russian objections to language on its war in Chechnya, this year's session in Romania is expected to produce a broad consensus in support of a general plan to fight international terrorism.

Washington and Moscow are expected to back the "Bucharest Plan of Action for Combating Terrorism," in yet another sign of their warming ties since the 11 September attacks on America. The plan by the OSCE -- which comprises the U.S., all of Europe, Canada, and the republics of the former Soviet Union -- is likely to state that no cause can justify the use of terrorism.

But the shadow of fresh terrorism in the Middle East, where Palestinian suicide bombings that killed 25 people last weekend provoked Israeli retaliations yesterday, is hanging over Powell's trip.

Powell, who is expected to meet in Bucharest with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, said on 2 December that Israel had every right to defend itself from terrorism and called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to clamp down on those responsible for latest wave of attacks.

"Actions are going to be required to find those who did it and are responsible for it, besides those who died as suicide bombers, and also to find those who are planning other attacks, and go after the organizations that are training and preparing suicide bombers and others prone to violence."

After Bucharest, Powell flies to Turkey, a key U.S. ally and the only Muslim member of NATO. In Ankara, Powell is likely to discuss UN-sponsored talks aimed at reuniting the island of Cyprus after 27 years of division as well as Turkey's role in an EU-proposed rapid reaction military force.

U.S.-Russia relations return to the agenda on 6-7 December in Brussels, where Powell and other NATO foreign ministers will discuss changing the alliance's ties to Russia. Analysts say the meetings may produce a new structure within NATO that will make Moscow a participant on some issues but not a full-fledged member or give it veto power.

Analysts also say that the issue of Russian participation in NATO is likely to fuel debate in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush over whether giving Moscow a role in the defense alliance -- an unthinkable development just a few months ago -- isn't too much like letting the fox in the henhouse.

After meeting with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson at the Kremlin last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said developments were moving quickly: "Since our last meeting in Brussels on 3 October, not much time has passed. But the dialogue between NATO and Russia during that time has been progressing very energetically."

In Brussels, Powell will also meet with Ukrainian officials for talks on fighting international terrorism.

Powell then heads to three Central Asian countries which have lent key support to the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan despite traditional U.S. criticism of their human rights record and treatment of political dissidents.

Uzbekistan has provided important bases for the U.S. military and State Department officials say Powell will seek to assure its government that the U.S.'s new involvement in the region will be an enduring one and not a short-term affair of political expediency.

Following a visit last week by an Uzbek delegation to Washington, the U.S. agreed to step up financial assistance to Uzbekistan provided its government liberalizes its economy and improves its human rights record.