The United States is hopeful that once the military phase of the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan is over, Washington and Moscow will join hands to help the Central Asian countries grow into democracies, US ambassador to Moscow Alexander Vershbow said on the Ekho Moskvy radio Friday. US presence in Central Asia is by no means a threat to Russia, he claimed. Both countries are interested in stability, development of democracy and free market principles in that region, said the ambassador. According to Mr Vershbow, Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin have come to understand that US presence in the region is vital for waging war on terrorism. Besides, Washington had assured it was not planning a long-term presence. When asked about the Chechen problem, the US ambassador replied that his country believes it to be Russia's domestic affair. Since September 11 the US has been taking measures to seal off financial channels of terrorists and separatists like Hattab, said Mr Vershbow. He described Russo-American relations on the threshold of 2001-2002 as the ones of partners, or even allies. The ambassador believes that they have improved dramatically over the past two years.