January 23, 2009 / 1:37 PM / 9 years ago

Russia says ready to work with U.S. on Afghanistan

TASHKENT (Reuters) - Russia welcomes President Barack Obama’s decision to review policy in Afghanistan and is ready to cooperate, including on supply routes for NATO forces, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday.

“Let us hope the new U.S. administration will be more successful in the Afghan settlement than its predecessor,” Medvedev told a news conference after talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

“We are ready for fully fledged and equal cooperation on security in Afghanistan, including with the United States,” he added. “We are ready to work on the most complicated issues ... including the transit of nonmilitary goods.”

Cooperation on Afghanistan has been the most successful project uniting NATO and Russia, whose relations froze after Moscow’s brief war in Georgia last August.

Before the war, Russia agreed to allow nonmilitary NATO supplies to be delivered to Afghanistan across its territory bypassing Pakistan, where supply convoys face security risks.

NATO and Russia are expected to hold on Monday the first session of their council since the South Ossetia war. Russian officials have made clear the fate of the Afghan transit depends on how relations between Moscow and the alliance develop.

Medvedev’s overtures to Obama are part of an effort by the Kremlin to use change in the White House to mend bilateral relations.

Russia, alarmed by a threat from Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to its Central Asian allies, had backed a U.S. drive to topple them in 2001.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov meet for talks in Tashkent January 23, 2009. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Dmitry Astakhov

But it later became more critical of the U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan saying it had stopped short of stabilizing the country and failed to lessen the threat of Islamic radicalism and drug trafficking.

“The number of radicals is not declining in Afghanistan,” Medvedev said. “Poverty continues to produce terrorism.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood welcomed Medvedev’s offer.

Slideshow (4 Images)

“We certainly look forward to working with Russia on Afghanistan,” he told reporters, saying the naming of Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. diplomat who brokered the 1995 accord that ended the Bosnian war, as a special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan was a sign of U.S. commitment.

“That in itself shows you how serious the administration is about trying to work on these issues and working with Russia will be a key component (of) that,” he said.

Security risks are high for many regional leaders, including Karimov who violently stamped out a rebellion by opponents in the town of Andizhan in 2005.

Karimov told a news conference that apart from violence in Afghanistan he was concerned about rising tensions in Pakistan. “Radicals (in Uzbekistan) may be reinvigorated by the recent events in Pakistan,” he said.

He said countries in the region should have a stronger say in efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan. “We offer to solve the problem through the involvement of regional states.”

Earlier on Friday Karimov and Medvedev suggested the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- grouping Russia, China and four ex-Soviet Central Asian states -- could initiate an international conference on Afghanistan.

Writing by Oleg Shchedrov

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