Terror May Be Tie That Binds

U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow on Wednesday called for better cooperation between the United States and Russia in fighting terrorism, responding to a similar overture by President Vladimir Putin and to the outpouring of sympathy from many Russians.

The most probable result of this new desire for cooperation is that the two countries' intelligence services will now be more willing to share information on various radical groups operating in their areas of interests, analysts said.

The terrorist attacks in the United States may also lead Moscow and Washington to soften their criticism of each other on several fronts, such as the war in Chechnya and the future of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, they said. But the analysts also saw the potential for pitfalls, given the two countries' separate views of the Islamic threat.

Vershbow said he believed the attacks "certainly will underscore the fact that we have a common interest in the fight against international terrorism, and I certainly hope that it will promote greater cooperation," The Associated Press reported.

"This is not to say we have 100 percent identical views on the problems in Chechnya, but nevertheless the entire international community must unite against terrorism. Russia's statements on that score are welcome."

Putin, who was among the first world leaders to express his condolences Tuesday, said "the entire international community should unite in the struggle against terrorism."

In a further show of concern and to avoid any misunderstanding, the Defense Ministry postponed maneuvers by strategic bombers over the Atlantic and Pacific and in the Arctic planned for this week.

The head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Lebedev, in a rare public comment, said his service was working closely with agencies in the United States, Europe and the Middle East to prevent new terror attacks.

Lebedev said the attacks in the United States had proved "the global nature of the threat of international terrorism and the need for joint action in preventing it," his office said.

The U.S. investigation has focused on supporters of Osama bin Laden, who Russia says has been training and supporting Chechens in their fight against federal troops.

If bin Laden is found to have masterminded Tuesday's attacks, "Russia will see it as vindication of its perception of the size of the threat," said Mark Smith, a Russia expert at the Conflict Studies Research Center of the Sandhurst Military Academy. "This could lead to closer cooperation in intelligence gathering and sharing."

Federal Security Service spokesman Alexander Zdanovich said the FSB and CIA have studied how to react to terrorist threats together. "As secret services, we found common approaches," Zdanovich told Itar-Tass. "Regrettably, when it turned to specific actions against concrete extremist organizations, our approaches were somewhat different. We firmly say now that we can smash this evil only by pooling our efforts."

The FSB has not managed to solve any of the major terrorist attacks that struck the country in the last two years. The perpetrators of the apartment building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999 have not been found and neither have the people who set off a device in the underground passage on Pushkin Square in August 2000.

"It's true that the Russian secret services are not in the best of shape and the quality of their information is not what it used to be, but the cooperation could still prove important," said Mark Galeotti of Jane's Intelligence Group in London.

"The nature of intelligence is such that you gather everything you can, all the seemingly incoherent bits and pieces, and you usually don't immediately know which ones are important and which ones are not," Galeotti said Wednesday in a telephone interview from London. "Sometimes an accidental piece of information puts the whole jigsaw together and, in this respect, Russian help could prove useful."

One danger for the United States is that "Moscow might try to make it too much of a fight against Islam," Galeotti said. "And that's definitively not what the U.S. wants. There are already clear messages coming from Washington that the fight against terrorism is not a fight against Islam."

On the other hand, if the United States decides to take military action against a country it suspects of harboring the masterminds of Tuesday's attacks, this could put it at odds with Russia, said Smith of Sandhurst. "Especially if the country turns out to be one that Russia sees as its strategic partner, such as Iran," he said.

Another result of the attacks on the United States is that Washington may become more tolerant of the way Moscow is waging war in Chechnya, said Michael McFaul of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

"With these new circumstances, it will be difficult to criticize Russia for Chechnya," McFaul said in a telephone interview. "The words Chechnya will not be uttered by U.S. officials again in the U.S."

The biggest point of contention between the two countries is likely to remain the U.S. intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and build a national missile defense system. The United States says it needs to protect itself against nuclear attack from countries like Iran or North Korea.

In the aftermath of Tuesday's attacks, Russian officials said Washington should recognize that its strategy is wrong.

"It is becoming clear that the U.S. side has been seeking answers to the wrong questions," Reuters quoted Dmitry Rogozin, head of the State Duma committee on international affairs, as saying.

"It's clear now that NMD cannot protect the United States from the old-fashioned attacks of suicide bombers," said Viktor Supyan, an expert with the USA and Canada Institute. "Nevertheless, I believe the negotiations will go on as usual, and Russia will not be softer on its U.S. colleagues than before."

But McFaul said it is possible Washington may reconsider its policy. "Before Tuesday's attacks, missile defense was the only foreign policy issue for the Bush administration. Our Russia policy was a byproduct," he said.

"That has totally changed," McFaul said. "Now we're going to have to have a foreign policy that goes beyond missile defense. The race to get the ABM Treaty changed has ended. That will have positive effects for U.S.-Russian relations."

Megan Twohey contributed to this report.