Bush assails `the evil one'

In news conference, president labels bin Laden a parasite

Saddam also warned

U.S. would help Afghanistan rebuild after fall of Taliban

War On Terrorism : The Nation

October 12, 2001|By David L. Greene and Paul West | David L. Greene and Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON-- President Bush had harsh words last night for Osama bin Laden, calling him "the evil one" and a parasite but acknowledging that the U.S. government does not know whether the terrorist mastermind is dead or alive.

Bush, in his first prime-time news conference, said the United States would "reconsider" its current military campaign against Afghanistan if the Taliban government were immediately to "cough ... up" bin Laden and others in the al-Qaida terror network.

But the president also looked ahead to a post-Taliban Afghanistan, in which the U.S. government would participate in a nation-building chore that he has insisted his administration did not wish to perform.

Bush touched on a number of related points during a 45-minute session with reporters in the East Room at the White House, exactly one month after the terrorist attack on New York and the Pentagon and only hours after the FBI issued a new warning of possible terrorist activity against Americans in coming days. Among the highlights, Bush:

Warned Saddam Hussein that the United States is "watching him very carefully." Bush called the Iraqi dictator "an evil man" who has been developing weapons of mass destruction and said it would be to Iraq's "advantage" to allow international weapons inspectors back into the country.

Pleaded with Americans to show tolerance and not to use the latest FBI warning about possible terrorist activity as an excuse to "pick on somebody that doesn't look like you or share your religion." At the same time, he urged the public to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.

Said explicitly that he favors the creation of a Palestinian state.

Indicated he would be willing to take a personal role in reducing tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, including meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, "if I am convinced that a meeting with a particular party ... will further the process" and is not "an empty photo opportunity."

Praised Arafat for his tough response to unrest in Gaza City this week, in which two protesters were killed. "The world ought to applaud him for that," Bush said.

Refused to rule out the possibility that the United States would decide to violate the anti-ballistic missile treaty, as it threatened to do before the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush said he would try to convince his "friend" Russian President Vladimir Putin that the case for an anti-missile defense system is stronger today than it was a month ago.

Asked every child in the United States to donate $1 toward food and medical aid for the children of Afghanistan, one of the world's most destitute nations. One in three Afghan children is an orphan, Bush noted, and almost half suffer from malnutrition.

The president went further than he had previously in outlining his vision of a post-Taliban Afghanistan, implying that the United States had no intention of letting the Northern Alliance gain sole control.

"We shouldn't play favorites" he said.

Bush said that "all interested parties" should have an opportunity to take part in creating an Afghanistan that was not a safe haven for terrorists.

It would be "a useful function for the United Nations to take over the so-called `nation-building' -- I would call it the `stabilization' -- of a future government after our military mission is complete," Bush said. "We'll participate. Other countries will participate."

Bush addressed the considerable image-building task facing the United States as it attempts to convince Muslims and others around the globe that the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam.

"I am amazed that there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about, that people would hate us," he said. "We've got to do a better job of making our case."

Administration officials have warned that the United States needs to avoid personalizing the war on terrorism into a Bush-bin Laden clash.

The president tried to make the point again that his target is the entire al-Qaida network, not just bin Laden.

But he could not avoid direct references, often pointed, to the Saudi exile. He referred to him both as "Mr. bin Laden" and "the evil one."

"We'll smoke him out of his cave, and we'll get him eventually," Bush said.

`Got them on the run'

Bush said he was "confident that the al-Qaida organization is moving around Afghanistan. They think they might find safe haven. Not if we think they're there. And we've got them on the run."

He said the FBI was working to ensure that any al-Qaida members in the United States are brought to justice. But as if to underscore the enormity of the task, Bush said that al-Qaida operates "in roughly 68 countries."

"We must rid the world of terrorists so our children and grandchildren can grow up in freedom," he said. "It is essential. It is now our time to act."

In responding to reporters' questions, Bush was careful not to trip over the diplomatically sensitive aspects of the campaign against terror.

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