Russia calls for crusade on Afghan drugs, U.S. tepid
(Reuters) - Russia Wednesday rolled out a global initiative to stem Afghan drug trafficking to include a comprehensive crackdown on opium poppy growing, but the United States gave a cool reception to the plan.
Russia, the world's largest per capita heroin consumer with an estimated 30,000 people dying of abuse annually, has tried to take the lead to combat a flow of drugs from Afghanistan.
Moscow believes U.S.-led NATO forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan are reluctant to uproot local drug output, which has surged after their invasion in 2001 and now accounts for 90 percent of all heroin produced globally.
The U.S. said eradicating poppy plantations would push disgruntled Afghan farmers into the hands of insurgents.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the world community must work out a joint approach to combat Afghan drugs.
"We see drug addiction as a significant, the most severe threat to the development of our country, to the health of our people," Medvedev told a forum on Afghan drug production.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a binding United Nations resolution on Afghan drugs.
"We are confident there is a need for the U.N. Security Council to call the Afghan drug threat as a threat to international peace and security," he said.
Russia's anti-drugs czar, Viktor Ivanov, said the adoption of such a resolution by the U.N. would create a legal basis for an international fight against Afghan drugs.
The plan drafted by Moscow envisages eradication of no less than 25 percent all those areas growing opium poppies, from which heroin is derived, up from last year's 3 percent.
Moscow also wants the destruction of poppy fields to form part of the remit of NATO forces operating in Afghanistan.
"We should act at least as decisively fighting drug production in Afghanistan as it is done when fighting cocaine production in South America," Lavrov said, referring to the effort the U.S. puts into combating the cocaine trade.
U.S. COOL TO PLAN, NATO TRANSIT TO CONTINUE
Patrick Ward, acting deputy director for supply reduction at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, warned the forum of the dangers of pushing poor peasant farmers into the hands of the militants.
"This will further undermine the rule of law and reinforce the nexus between drugs and terrorism," he said.
In March NATO rejected Russian calls for it to eradicate opium poppy fields in Afghanistan, saying it cannot be in a situation where it removes "the only source of income of people who live in the second poorest country of the world."
The Russia plan envisages job creation schemes.
NATO and Afghan forces conducted 56 anti-drug operations in the first three months of 2010, which led to the destruction of 16.3 metric tons of opium, Ward said.
Seventy metric tons of heroin worth $13 billion is consumed in Russia every year, according to U.N. estimates.
Any rift between Moscow and Washington over the drugs issue would not affect the transits of cargo for NATO troops in Afghanistan via Russia, Moscow's envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said on the sidelines of the forum.
"We're interested in the transit ourselves, so that the coalition acts without disruptions," he said. "We're not going to shoot ourselves in the foot merely to spite them."
Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Matthew Jones
Wed Jun 9, 2010 11:44am EDT