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Russia to Cooperate with Taleban Opposition

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow will expand cooperation with Afghanistan's anti-Taleban opposition and is ready to open its airspace for humanitarian aid flights in the event of an international anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan. President Putin spoke for the first time on Monday about what his country is prepared to do to help the United States, in the wake of terrorist attacks almost two weeks ago.

Mr. Putin said Russia would increase military support for the anti-Taleban opposition currently fighting in Afghanistan. The Russian president also said his government is prepared to open its airspace to humanitarian aid flights to areas in Afghanistan where what he called "anti-terrorist operations" might be carried out.

As part of the five-point plan unveiled by Mr. Putin during a speech on Russian television late Monday, he said Central Asian countries supported Russia's position and might open their airfields. Mr. Putin also said Russian intelligence would pass along information it received concerning international terrorism.

Mr. Putin left open the possibility of broader cooperation with United States in the future. The Russian president said deeper forms of cooperation between Russia and other participants in anti-terrorist operations are possible, but will depend on the relations between individual countries.

Monday's television address came after a meeting the Russian president held with parliament leaders to discuss what stance the country should take following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Russia, which still has strong ties with the Central Asian countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union, has voiced its support for the United States. But before Monday's speech, Mr. Putin had not said publicly what concrete support he was willing to give.

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, attention has focused on a possible U.S. military strike against Osama bin Laden, whom the United States has identified as the prime suspect in the attacks. Osama bin Laden has been given refuge in Afghanistan by the ruling Taleban.

The Taleban, which controls most of Afghanistan, is fighting the Northern Alliance, a group of opposition fighters who have received military support from Russia.

At the end of his television address, Mr. Putin also gave rebels fighting in the breakaway republic of Chechnya in southern Russia 72 hours to initiate peace talks with the Russian government. Mr. Putin has repeatedly said that Russia is waging a war against terrorists in Chechnya.