Bush seeks, gets backing of U.S. allies

President, Powell refer to terrorist acts as `war,' prevail on NATO for aid

Terrorism Strikes America


September 13, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush for the first time described the terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center and Pentagon as "acts of war" yesterday, and he began calling allies around the world to secure their support for any U.S. retaliation.

"This enemy attacked not just our people, but all freedom-loving people everywhere," Bush said after a meeting with his national security team. "We will rally the world. We will be patient, we will be focused and we will be steadfast in our determination."

The White House seemed intent on portraying Tuesday's devastation as an international crisis and ensuring that the United States would not be alone in responding to it.

The support of other nations would be an important boost for Bush, who has been criticized for having a weak grounding in foreign affairs but now faces a national security tragedy that is likely to become the defining moment of his presidency.

The White House has been under pressure to explain its decision to keep Bush safely away from Washington during the day Tuesday as Americans were grappling with news of the bloodiest terrorist attack in the nation's history.

Administration officials responded yesterday by asserting that they had had "specific and credible information" that the White House and Air Force One also were targets of the terrorists.

In fact, said Ari Fleischer, Bush's spokesman, that information indicated that the plane that struck the Pentagon was originally intended to have hit the White House. He refused to provide any more details.

Bush and his aides have launched an intense diplomatic effort to gain the backing of key allies.

In response to a request from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, NATO allies met in Brussels to declare that if the attacks on New York City and Washington were carried out by foreigners, the 19 members of NATO would consider them acts of war against the entire alliance under Article 5 of the organization's charter. It would mark the first time in history the provision has ever been invoked.

U.S. officials refused to say whether they were considering any military actions, cautioning that they were still hunting down the perpetrators. But Powell said yesterday that he had made the request to NATO to make sure America's allies would provide support, either by taking part in any retaliatory attack or by making their airspace available to U.S. planes.

"We are at war," Powell said in a television interview yesterday morning, echoing the president. He added that the American people "want a comprehensive response. They want us to act as if we are at war, and we're going to do that - diplomatically and militarily."

Bush and his aides stressed yesterday that the magnitude of the carnage requires that the incident be treated as a provocation of war, though one with a faceless and elusive enemy. The White House said it was seeking support from around the world for a "coalition against terrorism."

"We're facing a different enemy than we have ever faced," Bush said. "This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people, then runs for cover. But it won't be able to run for cover forever."

The president added: "This battle will take time and resolve. But make no mistake about it. We will win."

The administration stressed a point that Bush had made in his speech to the nation Tuesday night: that the United States would make no distinction between the terrorists who carried out the attacks and any country that harbors them.

White House officials said they were clearing the president's schedule, at least for the next several days, so he could devote all his time to the crisis.

The president began his day yesterday with a 7 a.m. Oval Office meeting with Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser. Later in the morning, he met with congressional leaders and requested their quick release of billions of dollars in emergency spending to fund rescue efforts, help New York and Washington recover and prevent future attacks.

In the afternoon, the president visited the Pentagon to inspect the damage caused by the hijacked jetliner that slammed into the building, leaving heavy destruction and perhaps 200 dead.

Bush's aides said he planned to visit the remains of the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan as well, but would not do so until he was assured that his visit would not get in the way of rescue efforts.

"Coming here makes me sad, on the one hand; it also makes me angry," Bush said at the Pentagon. "Our country will, however, not be cowed by terrorists, by people who don't share the same values we share, by people who are willing to destroy people's lives because we embrace freedom."

The president's full schedule in Washington yesterday stood in stark contrast to Tuesday, when Bush spent the hours after the attacks traveling from Florida to Louisiana and Nebraska before returning to Washington.

Officials had said that they had to wait until security personnel deemed the White House safe for Bush to return to Washington.

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