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Russia Welcomes New U.S. Afghan Policy

Sergei Prikhodko
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia welcomes "increasingly transparent" U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan and sees new areas of cooperation with the West in settling the Afghan conflict, the Kremlin's senior foreign policy adviser has said.

Afghanistan is expected to become a major topic at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on June 15.

The SCO groups Russia, China, and the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

But leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Iran, whose states have observer status, will also attend the summit.

"We welcome the increasingly transparent U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan," Sergei Prikhodko told reporters. "The space for cooperation with the West on Afghanistan can be broader."

Russia backed the U.S.-led military operation launched in 2001 to topple Afghanistan's Taliban rulers but has since criticized Washington for its conduct, which Moscow believes contributes to instability in the region.

However, earlier this year Russia and its Central Asian allies agreed to allow nonlethal supplies to the international forces in Afghanistan to go through their territory, complementing a current route via Pakistan.

Cooperation on Afghanistan is a key element in attempts by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama to reset relations between Moscow and Washington which have reached post-Cold war lows in the past few years.

Drug Trafficking

Russia and its Central Asian allies are concerned that drug trafficking from Afghanistan has grown since the overthrow of the Taliban, posing a grave security threat for the region.

"In our assessment, the effectiveness of fighting the drug traffic from Afghanistan is falling rather than rising," a Kremlin source said.

Prikhodko said Medvedev will meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari later this week on the sidelines of the summit.

"A three-way meeting will also take place," he added.

Prikhodko said the transit of NATO supplies to Afghanistan and economic help to Afghanistan will be discussed.

Russia hosted an SCO conference on Afghanistan in Moscow in March. But Prikhodko said the members of the organization were not planning to try and take over the initiative in settling the Afghan conflict from the Western coalition.

"A stronger role means stronger responsibility," Prikhodko said. "If we claim a stronger role, that will ultimately take us toward taking part in the international force. We are not going to send troops to Afghanistan."

"For now the main responsibility for Afghanistan lies with the countries forming the international forces," he said. "We are going there mainly to take part in reconstruction."