CIS Summit Focuses on Regional Security

MOSCOW (Reuters–Associated Press)–Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the leaders of 11 other former Soviet republics on Wednesday and in turn won their support for upholding a key arms treaty and fighting terrorism.

A smiling Putin opened his first summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) since being inaugurated as Kremlin leader last month and went on to discuss issues ranging from trade to security with the leaders behind closed doors.

The CIS–founded after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union–said it had agreed on the need to preserve and strengthen the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty–under threat from US plans to build a national missile defense shield.

“The heads of the states–members of the Commonwealth of Independent States–consider fundamental the current way of supporting world strategic stability and the status of international agreemen’s,” the 12 leaders said in a statement.

“The heads of state note the historical importance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of May 26–1972 as the cornerstone of international peace–security and strategic stability–and confirm its immutable value today.”

The leaders said they were convinced the ABM would remain in force for the next decade and form the basis for further reductions in strategic nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile Prime ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States agreed Tuesday to create an anti-terrorist center in Moscow to combat crime and rebel insurgency in the former Soviet Union–Russian news reports said.

The premiers from the loose coalition of 12 ex-Soviet states–meeting in Moscow during a CIS summit–also agreed on a draft plan for fighting terrorism up to 2003–the Interfax news agency reported–citing Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

On other security issues–CIS foreign ministers decided Tuesday to withdraw a peacekeeping force from Tajikistan–which had been deployed in the Central Asian nation since a five-year civil war that ended in 1997.

The ministers agreed to appoint a Russian general to command the multinational force as it is disbanded–Interfax reported.

Tajikistan still struggles with armed Islamic bands and heroin smuggling from across a rugged–sparsely populated border with Afghanistan–said the chief of the Russian Defense Ministry’s international cooperation department–Leonid Ivashov.

But he said Tajikistan no longer needs a "peacekeeping process–but a process of consolidating the activity of law enforcement bodies and armed forces."

Strife in the region appeared to dominate Tuesday’s agenda.

The foreign ministers agreed to extend the mandate of peacekeepers in Abkhazia–a sliver of land on Georgia’s Black Sea coast which won de facto independence in a 1992-3 civil war and is now patrolled by CIS and UN peacekeeping troops.

The presidents of Russia–Armenia–Azerbaijan and Georgia met Tuesday for talks on resolving a conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan–but agreed only that they would meet regularly to discuss the problem–the Kremlin’s press service reported.

Russian and Uzbek defense ministers agreed Tuesday to begin a joint air defense program–while Russian president Vladimir Putin and Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed an agreement on collective defense–news agencies reported.

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