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U.S.: Bush Seeks To Build International Anti-Terrorist Coalition

  • Ron Synovitz

U.S. President George W. Bush has called on the countries of the world to wage a war on terrorism. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz looks at the current state of Washington's efforts to build an international coalition in response to last week's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Prague, 17 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Washington is in the midst of efforts to build an international coalition in support of military strikes against those suspected of supporting last week's devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

U.S. President George W. Bush said yesterday that all foreign leaders his administration has been in contact with so far are aware of the goals of the coalition being formed:

"They know my intentions are to find those who did this, find those who encourage them, find those who house them, find those who comfort them -- and bring them to justice. I made that very clear. My administration is determined to find, to get them running, and to hunt them down -- those who did this to America."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that all of Europe will stand with the United States and that the whole world should join in the fight to eradicate international terrorism:

"We have to take action against the whole machinery of mass terrorism. And that is something for the whole international community to come behind -- how it is financed, the groups operating this, the way that they operate -- in order that we dismantle this machinery of terror."

Both Bush and Blair -- as well as intelligence sources in France, Germany, and Israel -- have implicated Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group in last week's attacks.

Bin Laden, an exiled Saudi millionaire who already has been indicted in the United States on charges of masterminding the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, has been living in Taliban-controlled territory in Afghanistan for the last five years.

His presence has brought a great deal of strain on Pakistan, Afghanistan's neighbor to the southeast. Pakistan is one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government.

U.S. pressure has brought a pledge of full cooperation with Washington in the event of a U.S.-led assault on Afghanistan. Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said this weekend:

"Our response will be consistent with our firm policy of opposition to international terrorism. And as you are well aware, Pakistan has already declared that it will extend full cooperation in the fight against international terrorism."

A delegation led by Mahmood Ahmed, the head of Pakistan's intelligence service, met today with the Taliban's spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Taliban Foreign Minister Maulawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawaki in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

The Pakistani delegation delivered Washington's message that the Taliban must hand over bin Laden within three days or face a massive military assault by the international coalition.

Even if the Taliban does hand over bin Laden, there are no guarantees that sites in Afghanistan -- such as alleged terrorist training bases funded by bin Laden's network -- will not be attacked. But officials in Islamabad say the Taliban is being told that an attack against them is certain if they do not surrender bin Laden.

The complete details of Pakistan's promised cooperation with the United States remain unclear. Reports from Islamabad say the pledge includes allowing foreign ground troops into Pakistan as well as the use of Pakistani airspace by U.S. attack planes.

Pakistani Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider today confirmed reports that Islamabad is sharing its intelligence on the Taliban and bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.

"We have been cooperating with the United States for a long time, and we will cooperate on this issue of terrorism, including our intelligence exchange."

Mainstream political parties in Pakistan have backed the decision of the country's military leader, General Pervez Musharraf, to cooperate. But hard-line religious parties said today that they would consider a U.S. attack on Afghanistan as an attack on Pakistan. The newly formed Council for the Defense of Afghanistan and Pakistan is warning that civil strife could result.

Bush confirmed on 16 September that Pakistan, India, and Saudi Arabia have responded positively to U.S. requests, but he did not offer further details of those requests:

"The response from Pakistan, from Prime Minister [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee today of India, [from] Saudi Arabia, has been very positive and very straightforward. They know what my intentions are. I gave them ample opportunity to say they are uncomfortable with our goal. They said: 'We understand, Mr. President. We are with you.' "

Washington's NATO allies last week took the unprecedented step of invoking Article 5 of the alliance's founding Washington treaty. Article 5 states that an attack upon any member of the alliance is an attack upon the entire alliance.

That move paves the way for the possible military involvement of the other 18 alliance members.

The prospect of bringing Arab states into the coalition is a more difficult task for the Bush administration. That's because of the perception among many Arabs that Washington has maintained a one-sided Mideast policy that favors Israel at the expense of Palestinians.

Jordan's King Abdullah II has said that Arab countries will support the global fight against terrorism, but stressed that the best guarantee of success and security is a peaceful outcome to the Middle East conflict.

A similar stance has been adopted by the United Arab Emirates, which still recognizes the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government. The UAE pledged its support in hunting down those responsible for the 11 September attacks, but warned that international terrorism cannot be eradicated without a "just and permanent" solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi yesterday offered a rare show of support for the United States. He said that Washington has "the right to take revenge" for last week's attacks. But he also argued that there would be nothing to gain in a revenge attack against Afghanistan. In a presumed reference to U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Gadhafi said the international coalition should work together to "determine the reasons" behind the terrorism.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has confirmed that the issue of Israeli-Palestinian violence has been at the center of his talks on bringing Arab states into the anti-terrorism coalition:

"There is always an urgency to solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem and I have spent a good part of my time this week, in the midst of our own crisis, talking to leaders in the region -- [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon, Foreign Minister [Shimon] Peres, and [Palestinian Authority] Chairman [Yasser] Arafat -- in an effort to see progress, to get a meeting started, or at least get one meeting going so that we can see some progress in this time of crisis."

Russia, which is fighting its own battle against Islamic militants in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, last week condemned the attacks on the U.S. The Kremlin views the Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalist movements as a threat to the secular governments of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement issued on 16 September said that Russia and India, in the spirit of "strategic partnership," would closely coordinate joint actions aimed at containing the threat of terrorism and religious extremism.

But the Kremlin so far has ruled out the idea of a U.S.-led coalition crossing Russian territory or air space to attack targets in Afghanistan or other countries.

At talks in Moscow today between U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Mamedov, the Kremlin linked the fight against international terrorism with maintenance of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. The U.S. has threatened to withdraw from the ABM treaty in order to pursue its missile defense strategy.

Mamedov indicated that joint military cooperation is possible.

"In these consultations that we are holding and that are underway with Mr. Bolton, we are talking about specific help, including military, in the fight against international terrorism, which Russia and the U.S. are taking part in."

In Tajikistan, where some 25,000 Russian troops help guard the border with Afghanistan against incursions by drug smugglers and Islamic extremists, the government also has rejected the use of its territory or airspace for attacks on the Taliban by a U.S.-led coalition. Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov told journalists yesterday that: "There are reports that the U.S. intends to use Tajikistan's territory to set up its forces with the intention of attacking terrorist bases in Afghanistan. I want to stress, especially stress, that none of these rumors has any basis." In Uzbekistan, however, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told RFE/RL today that the possibility of allowing U.S. troops into Uzbekistan has not been ruled out.

The government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov has been waging its own battle against fundamentalists of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan -- a group that is fighting to establish an Islamic state in the Ferghana Valley that stretches across parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

In Washington yesterday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hinted at a strategy that would allow for a Russian-led coalition in addition to a U.S.-led coalition to battle terrorist networks. Rumsfeld said that there will not be one, but numerous coalitions: "some will be able to do some things and others, other things."