World support for tough U.S. action is not fading, White House says

Some leaders call for irrefutable evidence

Terrorism Strikes America

The Military Response

September 20, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush intensified his diplomatic outreach yesterday, seeking to convince jittery foreign leaders that they should join his war on terrorism, even though the enemy remains shadowy and elusive.

As the Defense Department ordered the deployment of dozens of U.S. warplanes to the Persian Gulf region, the president said the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and Washington demanded a "worldwide campaign" to stamp out terrorism.

He said there has been an "outpouring of support" for such an effort.

But important allies have urged restraint in recent days, expressing some reluctance to back a military strike until there is clear evidence of who was responsible for the devastating assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Such skepticism has presented a new challenge to the Bush administration, which enjoyed almost a week of unconditional support as it tried to build what administration officials call a "coalition against terrorism."

Bush is meeting at the White House this week with an assortment of foreign leaders and diplomats, hoping to shore up international support as the United States begins to position forces for military retaliation to avenge the attacks.

"Freedom-loving people understand that terrorism knows no borders," Bush said yesterday, "that terrorists will strike in order to bring fear, to try to change the behavior of countries that love liberty. And we will not let them do that."

Mindful of their hesitation, Bush also began sending a message to nations around the world that he would like them to participate in the effort, even if they are wary of using military force.

"This is a campaign in which nations will contribute in a variety of ways," the president said. "Some nations will be willing to join in a very overt way. Other nations will be willing to join by sharing information - and information in a campaign such as this is going to be incredibly important."

Senior White House officials began to argue yesterday that the United States does not need broad international support for military strikes against suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, his Al Qaeda network and the Taliban government in Afghanistan that harbors him.

In a significant distinction, the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said the "first phase" of the war on terrorism would largely be what she called an act of "self-defense" that could be carried out unilaterally.

"We do not expect every nation to be involved in every phase of the operation," said Rice.

"If you don't think this is about self-defense, just look at the pictures from Sept. 11."

As the Taliban continued to balk at handing over bin Laden yesterday, the White House issued a stern warning that, in the words of presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer, "it's time for action, not negotiation."

The president said he "would strongly urge the Taliban to turn over the Al Qaeda organizers who hide in their country." He added: "We're on the case."

But the administration is also trying to lay the groundwork for a longer and deeper campaign against terrorism, for which global support could be crucial.

The president will deliver a major address tonight before a joint session of Congress, during which aides said the president will elaborate on what he means. They said he would not use the speech to announce military action.

Bush spoke yesterday with the president of Indonesia and with the foreign ministers of Russia and Germany.

On Tuesday, he had dinner with French President Jacques Chirac. Today, the president meets with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prince Saud al Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister.

Just days ago, the White House was sending a stern message to the world, imploring nations to "take sides" in the war against terrorism.

But foreign leaders in recent days, while continuing to express generalized support, have warned the United States against acting independently or too quickly. They have urged the United States to limit casualties among civilians, and to work within established international agencies such as the United Nations.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, an important American ally, said Bush should not be "hasty" in retaliation, and should await "irrefutable" evidence against suspected terrorists, a position not unlike that taken by the Taliban with respect to expelling bin Laden.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin urged the United States yesterday "to elaborate common principles and practical mechanisms of cooperation."

And Chinese President Jiang Zemin, in a phone call to British Prime Minister Blair, said that military action should "aim at clear targets so as to avoid casualties to innocent people," according to the state-run news agency in China.

White House officials played down such comments, insisting that international support is not fading and that Bush has received nothing but encouragement from other leaders.

Aides also said Bush, in his speech tonight, will try to justify, to the American people and to the world, the kind of war he wants to wage.

"A lot of citizens have got a lot of questions about what has taken place on September the 11th and subsequent to that," Bush said yesterday. "I owe it to the country to give an explanation."

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