10/29/2005, 00.00
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China, Russia join Caucasus states in asking US to quit region

The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation has called on Washington to give notice as to when it will quit its military bases. The organization is assuming ever greater political significance, not least because of the presence of India, Iran and Pakistan.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The six nations forming part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) yesterday closed a two-day meeting in Moscow. The United States military bases in the Caucasus region were one of the items on the agenda of the meeting.

The meeting – attended by Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrghizistan, Tajikistan and with India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia as observers – approved a request to the United States to indicate a precise date for the withdrawal of its military bases in the Caucasus States.

Zhang Deguang, group secretary and former Foreign Affairs Minister of China, said the ends of the SCO were the war on terror and economic collaboration, and that it was not a "military alliance". The request made to the USA, he added, was just that, a "request" and "not an ultimatum".

In July, the SCO submitted a similar request to the United States about its bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrghizistan. In the same month, the Uzbek president

asked the USA to withdraw within six months.

The group is "gathering momentum", according to Russian premier, Vladimir Putin, and "acquiring increasing political weight". Many observers draw attention to the growing influence of Russia and China in the Caucasus region –of significant strategic importance and rich in energy sources – with ever more economic links and a progressive weakening of the presence of the United States.

Visiting the area recently, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, devoted herself to strengthening political and economic links between Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. And she got hold of a statement from Kurmanbek Bakiyev, president of Kyrghizistan, to the tune that the US military presence may continue "until the mission of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan is completed".

Shaukat Aziz, Pakistani premier and traditional US ally, recognised that the bloc, led by China and Russia, has a "tremendous significance" but he also insisted that the alliance wanted first and foremost to fight terrorism and to increase economic collaboration.

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