- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

NEW YORK The United States yesterday warned the United Nations that its counterterrorism campaign may expand to include military strikes on other nations besides Afghanistan.

"There is still much we do not know. Our inquiry is in its early stages," wrote U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte in a letter to U.N. Security Council President Richard Ryan, ambassador of Ireland.

"We may find that our self-defense requires further actions with respect to other organizations and other states," Mr. Negroponte wrote.

American diplomats yesterday refused to specify any additional targets or circumstances, saying that the remarks merely reserved for the United States the right of future action.

"This marks the beginning, as President Bush has said, of a military phase of a multifaceted and comprehensive effort against international terrorism which includes military, diplomatic, financial, law-enforcement and intelligence components," Mr. Negroponte said yesterday evening in a briefing to the Security Council.

"We stress that in carrying out these missions we are committed to minimizing civilian casualties," he said.

Mr. Negroponte and British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock yesterday briefed the council on the first two days of the military offensive targeting the Afghan-based terror network of Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime, which has refused to surrender bin Laden.

Diplomats inside the room said that all council members spoke, generally in supportive terms, and no one questioned the possibility of wider military strikes.

"I think there is a clear understanding that we are acting in our inherent right to self-defense," Mr. Negroponte said, "and I think that was understood all along."

Yesterday evening's briefing came hours after the U.N. membership elected Syria and four other nations Cameroon, Guinea, Mexico and Bulgaria to join the Security Council for two-year terms starting in January.

Syria is one of seven governments on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, and the prospect of its joining the council especially as counterterrorism has become a priority issue generated great concern among Jewish groups and U.S. lawmakers.

Only Israel had publicly opposed Syria's candidacy, saying it was "a sheer absurdity."

U.S. officials, however, could do little to derail Syria's bid. The country received 160 out of a possible 178 votes yesterday, indicating that most nations did not share Washington's concerns.

The U.S. letter to the council is standard procedure when a nation undertakes military action under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which guarantees members the right to self-defense.

U.S. officials in New York and Washington repeatedly stressed yesterday that the bombing has been undertaken in a way to minimize civilian casualties.

U.S. Officials also emphasized that the United States is the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

The U.S. letter did appear to spark the first small division between the United States and Britain, which has been the Bush administration's staunchest ally in its bid to avenge the Sept. 11 attacks.

The White House said yesterday that Mr. Negroponte's letter was only the latest such warning from the Bush administration.

"The letter states what the president has been saying very publicly all along, that the United States reserves the right to defend itself wherever it is necessary," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

But British Foreign Minister Jack Straw sounded a different note yesterday, telling reporters in Luxembourg that military action for Britain would be limited to Afghanistan.

"The agreement at the moment is that [strikes] are confined to Afghanistan," he said after attending a European Union meeting. "That is where the problem is and that is the military action in which we are involved."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday effectively endorsed the military action, referring to the U.N. Charter's guarantee of self-defense, as well as various Security Council resolutions to combat terrorism as a threat to international peace and security.

"The states concerned have set their military action in Afghanistan in that context," he noted in a pre-recorded statement released to international broadcasters yesterday.

Council members yesterday requested daily humanitarian updates on Afghanistan from the U.N. relief agencies.

Afghanistan is likely to be on the security council's agenda for some time, meaning the newly elected members will have to wrestle with a problem that has flared and ebbed for decades.

Syria was the endorsed candidate of the Asian group, taking over the seat currently held by Bangladesh.

Last week, nearly 40 senators wrote President Bush demanding that he oppose Syria's candidacy. But Washington, which had not publicly opposed the country in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, could do little to stop it yesterday.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that the United States never discusses how it votes, but added: "The United States will continue to express our concerns regarding terrorism with the Syrian government."

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