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Russian Defense Minister to Meet NATO - 2001-09-26

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has flown to Brussels for talks on NATO-Russian relations. There are signs of closer cooperation between the Kremlin and the West in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States.

Mr. Ivanov said Russia is prepared for broader cooperation with the West in combating terrorism. Speaking to journalists on his plane, the Russian official said that if the world community, NATO and the United States propose any mechanism for combating terrorism, then Russia will be prepared for, as he put it, far more active cooperation.

Mr. Ivanov said that there is currently no mechanism in place to fight terrorism and that discussions are needed so that such plans can be made.

On Monday, President Vladimir Putin offered to help the United States in its campaign against those responsible for the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He said he would step up arms supplies to opponents of Afghanistan's ruling Taleban and would open Russian air space for the shipment of humanitarian aid.

Mr. Putin also unexpectedly opened the door to possible peace talks with Chechen rebels by giving them 72 hours to sever all contacts with international terrorists and approach his representatives in the region.

Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov initially welcomed the offer, calling it a "real chance to start talks on the quick cessation of military actions." But so far, no rebel officials have come out for talks and fighting has continued.

On Wednesday, a car exploded in the southern Russian town of Makhachkala near the breakaway republic of Chechnya, killing its passengers. Russian authorities believe those in the car were Chechen rebels who were killed when about two kilograms of plastic explosives went off prematurely.

Russia has been eager to win some level of international support for its continuing conflict in Chechnya, which it have characterized as a fight against terrorism.

In his remarks Wednesday, Mr. Ivanov alluded to that when he said Russia's cooperation with the West is based on the idea that there must be no "double standard" in combating terrorism. He said "terrorists must not be divided into bad terrorists and so-called insurgents."

The United States and the West have criticized Russia's conduct of the war in Chechnya. International human rights organizations have accused Russia of widespread human rights abuses against Chechen civilians.