- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

NATO yesterday declared that the Sept. 11 strikes in New York and Washington constituted an assault on the entire 19-nation alliance, as British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime it faced certain destruction if it did not hand over the terrorists behind the attacks.
For the first time in its 52-year history, NATO's executive council formally invoked the founding charter's mutual-defense clause, which essentially holds that an attack on any member constitutes an attack against all.
The decision followed a presentation in Brussels by Ambassador-at-Large Francis X. Taylor, President Bush's coordinator for counterterrorism activities, detailing financial and logistical support by Osama bin Laden's international network for the suicide hijackers who killed nearly 6,000 people last month.
The classified briefing also dealt with bin Laden's links to the ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which is sheltering his al Qaeda organization and faces a major U.S. military buildup on its borders.
Said NATO Secretary-General George Robertson after yesterday's decision: "It is clear that all roads lead to al Qaeda and pinpoint Osama bin Laden as having been involved in it."
Mr. Blair, addressing his ruling Labor Party's annual conference in Brighton, England, yesterday, said the message for the Taliban was: "Surrender the terrorists or surrender power this is your choice."
The British prime minister, who has been outspoken in his support of a military counterstrike following last month's attacks, said there could be "no moral ambiguity" in the fight against international terrorism.
While saying the response should be targeted and minimize civilian casualties, Mr. Blair added: "This is a battle with only one outcome our victory not theirs. … Whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater."
NATO's mutual-defense clause does not compel individual members to participate in a U.S.-led military strike against the terrorists, and Mr. Robertson said yesterday U.S. officials did not seek any specific coordinated NATO action.
Regardless of the role NATO ultimately plays, the vote gives a green light from America's closest allies to a U.S. retaliatory strike.
The vote could also strengthen Mr. Bush's case that the United States has compelling evidence that bin Laden and his terrorist network are behind the attacks last month on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
Many Arab- and Muslim-majority nations have been pressing Washington for proof of bin Laden's involvement before any military response is undertaken.
Two days after the attacks, NATO ministers meeting in Brussels said they were prepared to invoke the mutual defense pact embodied in Article 5 of the NATO charter if it could be proved the attackers came from outside the United States.
Yesterday's vote indicates that America's 18 NATO allies are now convinced that was the case.
The Article 5 clause had never been invoked, even during the tense confrontations of the Cold War, the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the 1999 air war against Yugoslavia.
Mr. Robertson yesterday refused to give reporters details of the closed briefing, citing the need to protect intelligence sources and the fear that disclosing details could help bin Laden and his associates prepare for counterstrikes.
The United States received a strong message of support from a powerful NATO nonmember whose leader was in Brussels yesterday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, on a visit to meet with European Union leaders in the Belgian capital, said he was convinced bin Laden's network was behind the Sept. 11 strikes.
"Russia's special services need no proof of the guilt of bin Laden in the attacks. For us, it is already clear," Mr. Putin said after meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. "The only thing we do not know is the exact role he played."
Mr. Putin has been pressing the case that bin Laden's network has extensive ties to the Islamic rebels fighting Russian forces in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

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