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Russia Says Years to Root Out Al-Qaida - 2002-03-17


Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov says it will take years to flush out the remnants of the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taleban around the world.

Appearing on the N-B-C television program "Meet the Press" in a taped interview," Mr. Ivanov said the United States has made "definite progress" in dismantling the large terrorist groups that operated within Afghanistan.

The Russian Defense Minister said he had no idea where Osama bin Laden is hiding, but thinks he is either inside or near Afghanistan.

Mr. Ivanov believes sooner or later Mr. bin Laden will be captured, but it may take years.

On the subject of Iraq, Mr. Ivanov says Russia fully supports the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to see if Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction.

He says the inspectors should have complete access to investigate whether Iraq is developing weapons.

U-N weapons inspectors have been barred from returning to Iraq since leaving in December 1998.

President Bush has described Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" that supports terrorism. He has insisted that Baghdad must allow weapons inspectors into the country, or face the consequences.

Mr. Ivanov confirmed a report in the Christian Science Monitor that Iraq owes Russia eight-billion dollars in arrears from loans made by the former Soviet Union and another 12-billion dollars in oil export money.

Turning to the subject of President Bush, Mr. Ivanov called the U-S president a "visionary." He said Mr. Bush understands the Cold War is over. Mr. Ivanov says the two countries are sharing intelligence information.

He said Russian agents are working with the U-S military Central Command in Tampa, Florida and Russian agencies in Moscow are co-operating as well.

Both countries are negotiating to reduce stockpiles of long-range nuclear warheads.

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