U.S. President George W. Bush wants his defense secretary to coordinate with Middle East and Central Asian leaders America's campaign against international terrorism. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is traveling to the region to consult with top military and political officials, as the U.S. and Britain continue to amass forces focused on Afghanistan.
Washington, 3 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is going to the Middle East and Central Asia for talks with political and military leaders concerning the war against international terrorism.
The Defense Department said Rumsfeld was planning to leave for the region late yesterday (Washington time) and would engage in "consultations at the highest level."
Shortly before his scheduled departure, Rumsfeld said he will visit four key nations -- Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, and Uzbekistan.
Rumsfeld said that he hopes his first meeting with Uzbek leaders will be useful. Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan. The defense secretary also said he hopes to meet with U.S. troops on joint exercises in Egypt.
Spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Rumsfeld was going to "talk about the campaign against terrorism." She said the secretary will hold a series of meetings on "defense-related efforts on the war against terrorism."
Rumsfeld is making the trip at the request of U.S. President George W. Bush. The announcement came as the United States and Britain pressed a major military buildup near Afghanistan, demanding that the Taliban militia, which controls most of the country, turn over suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The fugitive Saudi-born millionaire is the prime suspect in the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington in which an estimated 6,000 people were killed.
Yesterday, the Taliban again refused to surrender bin Laden but said it was open to negotiations. The White House said the issue was non-negotiable.
The United States and Britain dispatched aircraft carriers, some 350 warplanes, ships armed with missiles, and special operational troops within striking distance of Afghanistan. Many of the U.S. forces in the region are based in Saudi Arabia, and others are in smaller Persian Gulf countries such as Bahrain and Kuwait.
Speaking in Washington, Bush had this comment yesterday on the events:
"We've put together a coalition of nations that says terrorism won't stand. We've got our military alert -- on alert for a reason. Terrorism won't stand. We're cutting off their money -- because we're saying terrorism won't stand."
At the State Department, Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Indian Foreign and Defense Minister Jaswant Singh to discuss the issue of terrorism. Powell said:
"We are going after terrorism in a comprehensive way, not just in the present instance of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, but terrorism as it affects nations around the world to include the kind of terrorism that affects India."
Powell expressed Washington's condolences for the victims of the 1 October suicide attack on Kashmir's state assembly. He called the attack on the legislature in Srinagar that killed 38 people a heinous act.
In Brussels, meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said the United States had supplied the alliance with "clear and compelling" proof that bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were behind the terrorist attacks on 11 September.
Speaking in Brighton, England, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said there is no doubt that bin Laden and his people organized the atrocity. Blair said:
"We will put a trap around the [Taliban] regime. And I say to the Taliban: Surrender the terrorists or surrender power. That is your choice."
Blair said he does not doubt that the terrorists would have killed 70,000 people or more had they had the opportunity to do so. He said there can be no negotiations with such evil.