TASHKENT, Uzbekistan Secretary of State Colin Powell's visits to Uzbekistan and Kazakstan underscored how much things have changed since the Cold War and how much the United States now needs these nations' help in the war against terrorism.
The stops had symbolic importance, showing the extent of the Bush administration's outreach and its maturing relationship with Russia, where Powell was arriving Sunday
The Kremlin not long ago based nuclear missiles in Kazakstan aimed at the United States. The notion of U.S. forces in any of the Soviet republics would have seemed unthinkable.
Today, more than 1,000 American troops are stationed in Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan, where bad weather prevented Powell from a trip Saturday, has offered use of bases and airfields. Kazakstan is considering it. All three have granted the United States airspace rights.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Powell meets on Monday, said after the Sept. 11 attacks that Russia had no objections to a U.S. military presence in the former Soviet "stan" countries. Russians also provided intelligence on terrorist activity in the region.
"We can have better relationships with these countries without causing the Russians to be concerned about it," Powell said during a flight from Belgium, where he attended a NATO meeting.
That is not to say that Washington and Moscow see eye to eye on everything.
After Central Asia, Powell will again press the U.S. case in Moscow for changes in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to allow a U.S. missile defense system.
Getting a satisfactory deal "is still a challenge for us," Powell said.
U.S. missile defense advocates contend that the attacks have bolstered their case and showed how vulnerable civilized society is to all forms of terrorism.
Powell told reporters accompanying him that he plans to make a strong case in Moscow for treaty changes.
The Pentagon last week had a successful test of the anti-missile system high over the Pacific its third successful test, against two failures and is eager to start pouring concrete for interceptor silos and a test command center in Alaska.