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NATO: Wolfowitz Briefs NATO But Offers No Evidence Against Bin Laden

The United States yesterday briefed its NATO partners on efforts to build an international antiterrorism coalition. Our correspondent in Brussels reports that while the alliance gave the U.S. strong backing, U.S. representatives did not request any specific assistance from the alliance nor did it present any evidence linking suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden to the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington.

Brussels, 27 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States yesterday briefed NATO defense ministers in Brussels on U.S. efforts to build an international coalition to fight terrorism.

Deputy U.S. Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz used the meeting to inform the U.S.'s NATO allies of the direction of U.S. antiterrorism efforts in the wake of the recent attacks in New York and Washington. Wolfowitz was standing in for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose busy schedule did not allow him to attend the meeting.

Contrary to some expectations, Wolfowitz did not offer evidence linking Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden to the attacks, nor apparently did he ask the alliance for any specific assistance. The U.S. has identified bin Laden as its main suspect in the 11 September attacks that killed some 6,500 people.

Wolfowitz told journalists instead that evidence of bin Laden's guilt is there "for the whole world to see."

After the meeting, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson affirmed the alliance's strong support for the U.S.

"Defense ministers reiterated unanimously complete alliance solidarity in the face of vicious attacks directed against the United States, and it was totally clear from our discussions today that the United States can rely on its 18 allies for assistance and for support."

Lord Robertson said the U.S. did not need to produce evidence that the attacks had originated from abroad to invoke NATO's collective security clause that an attack on one member is an attack on all. He said the U.S. simply needed to "make clear" that was the case.

"It is not necessary for an ally that has been attacked to produce evidence that the attack came from abroad. It is sufficient for that ally to make it clear that the attack did come from abroad."

Immediately after the terrorist attacks, NATO said Article Five of its founding treaty would be invoked -- and the assault would be considered an attack on the whole alliance -- if it could be proven the assaults originated from outside the United States.

But a NATO official said privately that without some evidence of bin Laden's guilt or even an official declaration confirming bin Laden's involvement, NATO ministers were unable to drop the "if" in its two-week old declaration.

Wolfowitz indicated that Washington is comfortable with this position for the time being:

"I think we had a collective affirmation of support with what they [NATO allies] have said with Article Five, and if we need collective action, we'll ask for it. We don't anticipate that at the moment."

Wolfowitz praised what he called NATO's continuing relevance, but he hinted the alliance would form only part of a larger network of "multiple coalitions" against terrorism that Washington is trying to assemble. Stressing the need to be flexible and adaptive to fight terrorism, Wolfowitz said the U.S. would try to forge "multinational and multifaceted" coalitions, accepting help from all who offer it.

He said military measures -- that is, NATO's domain -- would constitute only part of the campaign against terrorism, with political and economic steps being equally important.

Wolfowitz also called on NATO allies to improve their intelligence-sharing and to make the fight against terrorism the alliance's main priority.

He appeared to criticize the unwillingness of some European members to increase their defense spending. He said, "We should think about the thousands of people who died and the hundreds, even trillions of dollars of economic losses" caused by the attacks.