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Amb. Vershbow: [Beginning of tape] ... our friends relatives and colleagues back home. Some of us may have been touched by this tragedy - we don't even know yet - but I know that this has really touched the Russian people as well and I am really quite moved by the display of sympathy and solidarity that is reflected here with the flowers and the icons and so many other personal messages of condolence. We're also very, very pleased, and moved by, the response of the Russian government and President Putin who has been in touch with President Bush, who has offered assistance and who has underscored what is an important message, namely that we both face a common enemy, the enemy of international terrorism, and it's important that the international community as a whole unite against it. I had the opportunity to thank Foreign Minister Ivanov personally for this and again I am very, very touched by this outpouring of sympathy by the Russian people and I think it's a sign that, even though we have a few small differences in our relations, there's a lot more that unites us than divides us, even in a time of tragedy. So I'm prepared to take a couple of questions if you're interested.
Question: [Unintelligible - "... close the embassy."]
Amb. Vershbow: No, we took some precautions today and reduced public access just until the situation clarified, but I think in all likelihood we'll be back in normal business tomorrow. We don't have any information about a specific threat to the embassy or to American interests. Nevertheless, one can never be certain about this and we very much appreciate the extra security provided to us by Russian police and other security forces.
Amb. Vershbow: Well, we've been in touch with them in a lot of different channels, including those that would be helpful in trying to get to the bottom of the story as to who is responsible and the Russians have pledged to us that they will share information if they can get it. They've also provided offers of tangible support, including from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and we're considering that very generous request right now.
Question: [Unintelligible: "... more of a sense of cooperation ... terrorism ...militarily... decision the U.S. might take."]
Amb. Vershbow: Well, I don't think I'd want to speculate about any kinds of response options, or what we might or might not do with other countries, but certainly we've already had the issue of counter-terrorism on our agenda and this tragedy hopefully will at least have the side effect of giving impetus to that kind of cooperation and hopefully together we can prevent this type of thing from happening in the future.
Question: [Unintelligible: "... Russians ... discussions ... offer ... potential ... intelligence."]
Amb. Vershbow: I can't really get into that. I'm not really in that particular loop in any case. But I would say that the sympathy and the emergency assistance that they've offered already is a very positive gesture and I'll leave it at that.
Question: [Unintelligible: "... expect ... America ... change of view ..."]
Amb. Vershbow: I don't' think that this is going to have any direct effect on the ongoing discussions and consultations regarding a new strategic framework. I think yesterday's event underscores that we do face very immediate threats from terrorist groups and rogue states that may directly or indirectly support them. We never said that missile defense is the only answer. But there are threats emerging from long-range missiles that are just as serious today as they were yesterday. This only underscores that we have to address a multitude of threats, in addition to those from long-range ballistic missiles.
Question: [Unintelligible: "You say that the Russians have offered to help you with information gathering. Is there any information that they may already have ...?"]
Amb. Vershbow: No, I'm not familiar with any such information and if I were, I probably couldn't talk to you about it anyway. But we have good contacts - we've had good contacts for many years on this whole subject of counter-terrorism and we want to make good use of those channels right now.
Question: [Unintelligible: "... administration ... Chechnya ..."]
Amb. Vershbow: Well, we've always recognized that part of the crisis that the Russians face in Chechnya is one that's related to international terrorism. The extremist forces in Chechnya do have external sources of support, including from groups in the Middle East and South Asia, and so there is a terrorist dimension to the Chechnya conflict, but I think we have to say that the Russian approach to solving that conflict in our view is leading them down the wrong path. A military approach is only making a bad situation worse and we continue to emphasize our view that their interests lie in finding a political solution to the Chechnya crisis, even as we both stand [sic] the terrorist groups that might be fueling that conflict. One more question?
Amb. Vershbow: Well, there, too, I'm not going to get ahead of those in Washington who are better-equipped with the information we're gathering and are still analyzing it, so I don't want to jump to any conclusions. Ossama bin Laden's record, of course, prior to yesterday's events, is pretty well documented. He is a man who - himself and his group have a lot of blood on their hands so obviously we're looking closely at what he may have had to do with this, but I don't think we've reached any conclusions yet at this point.
Amb. Vershbow: That's a subject we've had discussions about for a long time and that's about all I can say. Thank you.
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