Questions arise over coalition coherence

Russia, China support countered by silence of moderate Arab leaders

War On Terrorism

The World

October 08, 2001|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Declaring, "We are supported by the collective will of the world," President Bush said yesterday that four nations besides Great Britain had offered forces for U.S-led military strikes in Afghanistan and 40 nations had granted airspace or landing rights to U.S. aircraft.

But despite strenuous administration efforts to assemble broad international backing during the past three weeks, the overall results have been disappointing, according to Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Lott said that "some [countries] that we had hoped for more from have not quite lived up to what we expected of them." He said he was "a little disappointed" even with some European countries, notably France.

The United States drew an outpouring of worldwide sympathy and expressions of solidarity in fighting terrorism after the terror attacks Sept. 11, even from Iran, a longtime adversary. NATO allies declared their support under Article 5 of the alliance charter, which says an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Yesterday's initial airstrikes, however, were basically a partnership of the United States and Britain, with France providing logistical support from ships in the Indian Ocean. French President Jacques Chirac announced that his country's forces would participate as the military campaign unfolds, but did not spell out how.

Canada, Germany and Australia had also offered forces, Bush said yesterday.

Bush's coalition-building drew some surprising bonuses, including strong political support from Russia and quiet support from China, which offered a cautious endorsement yesterday of U.S.-British attacks on Afghanistan, calling for strictly targeted strikes to avoid civilian casualties.

Before military action was launched, senior administration officials had said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's big challenge in the days ahead would be holding the coalition together.

"When the action is dissected, and it isn't perfect in every respect, people are going to perhaps start questioning their commitment," one official said.

One of the biggest worries is Pakistan. Its military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has thrown his country's support behind the United States. But strong pockets of Islamic extremism and support for the Taliban threaten to destabilize the regime, which possesses nuclear weapons.

Powell will visit Pakistan and its larger neighbor and rival, India, late this week.

Officials insisted yesterday that the support they had gathered was intact and active.

"The coalition is on the move," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. The European Union's Javier Solana added: "This is a battle in which we are all engaged."

Assembling the coalition, officials heard warnings from Arab leaders. "Everybody says, `I'm stable, but the other guy isn't,'" a senior official related.

Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were among an array of world leaders contacted by phone yesterday by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell.

A number of Arab states were among the countries that granted permission for overflights for U.S. jets, a senior official said.

But moderate Arab leaders were publicly silent after yesterday's airstrikes were announced. Although their lack of reaction could be partly explained by the late hour, they are known to fear that U.S. retaliation would stir unrest within the region and could destabilize their regimes.

Rather than statements from their leaders, what Arab cable television viewers saw in the hours after the military strikes were launched was a videotape of Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida network is the main target, denouncing the United States.

The Bush administration has worked to allay the Arab world's fears, sending Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to the region late last week. There was no mention by the administration yesterday of any support provided by Saudi Arabia, a key Persian Gulf ally, where more than 4,000 U.S. troops are based. All the attacks emanated from the sea, from a base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean or from the U.S. mainland.

Inside the kingdom, "the public feel upset about it. They are worried about civilian casualties and worried about the unknown," said Khaled al Maeena, editor of the Saudi-based Arab News. The United States has temporarily closed its embassy in Riyadh to review security. An American was killed Saturday in a bombing in the city of Khobar.

Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were all clearly mindful of the challenge of holding this diverse and anxious collection of countries together in the days ahead, as results of the American and British missile and bomb attacks become clear.

All three stressed anew that the attacks were in no way aimed at Muslims, whose religion Bush and Blair said had been defiled by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"This is not a war with Islam," Blair said.

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