Bush Administration “Ready to Respond”
Bush administration officials went on Sunday morning talk shows to reiterate their position that the U.S. will work to force Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban out of power if it continues to support Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden.
Earlier Sunday, the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan said bin Laden was under Taliban control for his own safety. He said the fundamental Islamic government is willing to negotiate with the United States if Washington provides evidence bin Laden was involved in the September 11 terror attacks that killed over 6,000 people.
In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld questioned the credibility of the Taliban ambassador’s statement and said he had no reason to believe him.
“Of course, it was just a few days ago that they said they didn’t know where he was, so I have no reason to believe anything a Taliban representative has said,” Rumsfeld said.
Asked whether the Taliban would pay the price if it did not comply with U.S. demands to hand over bin Laden, Rumsfeld said: “I would think that that ought to be self-evident at this point.”
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said he hopes a stable government will replace the Taliban in the Central Asian nation.
“We do not want any government to harbor terrorists. And the Taliban government has been harboring terrorists. We don’t think that they are worthy of the leadership that America and the rest of the world demand,” Card told “Fox News Sunday.”
Secretary Rumsfeld said there was a growing willingness to assist the Northern Alliance, saying Washington needed to recognize and support efforts from groups opposed to the Taliban.
“There’s no question but that there are any number of people in Afghanistan — tribes in the South, the Northern Alliance in the North — that oppose Taliban. And clearly, we need to recognize the value they bring to this anti-terrorist, anti-Taliban effort and, where appropriate, find ways to assist them,” he told NBC.
The effort to set up a new government in Afghanistan could involve the former king of Afghanistan, who met members of the U.S. Congress and a Northern Alliance delegation in Rome Sunday.
The Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, went on the radio Sunday to warn ex-King Zahir Shah not to meddle in Afghanistan’s affairs, saying the exiled former monarch should live out the rest of his days in peace.
“Forget Afghanistan, you won’t be able to solve the issue of Afghanistan in your lifetime,” the Taliban leader said in a speech broadcast on Voice of Shariat radio.
Additional terrorist attacks “likely”
Commenting on the domestic situation, Attorney General John Ashcroft warned that fresh terror attacks were likely and the risk of such strikes could increase following any military action in the U.S. war on terrorism.
“We believe there is the likelihood of additional terrorist activity,” Ashcroft told CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
To help prevent fresh strikes, Ashcroft urged Congress to pass legislation expanding law enforcement powers to tap telephones, conduct searches, seize assets and detain suspects.
He has also asked Congress to approve new money laundering legislation to stem money flowing to attackers’ networks. “Talk does not stop terrorism, tools help reduce the risk of terrorism,” he said.
A recent Newsweek magazine poll found that more than 80 percent of Americans think a chemical or biological attack by terrorists is at least somewhat likely–and less than half think America’s ready to handle it.
Addressing the issue in a “60 Minutes” interview, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said supplies are stockpiled and 7,000 medical personnel stand ready to respond to any kind of attack.
Meanwhile, Washington is trying to maintain the strength of its international coalition in the wake of a report that the Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan told an Arabic-language newspaper that the kingdom, a close U.S. ally, would not allow foreign forces to launch attacks from its territory against Arabs or Muslims.
Asked whether Washington had been refused permission to launch military action from Saudi soil, Chief of Staff Card said: “I’m not going to get into the operational aspects of this effort. The State Department and the Defense Department have been working very closely with our allies, and we’re confident that we will have the support we need to do what is right.”