- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

The White House yesterday rejected the Taliban's demand for evidence of Osama bin Laden's guilt, insisting there is no room for negotiation when it comes to handing over terrorists.

"There will be no negotiations and no discussions," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "The war preparations continue."

He added: "The Taliban have not agreed to the demands the president laid out, and therefore, the president will continue to take every action necessary to protect this country."

The White House took this hard line after the Taliban announced yesterday it would not turn over bin Laden without proof that he masterminded last week's catastrophic terrorist attacks against the United States. Mr. Fleischer countered that publicly disclosing such proof would give "valuable information" to targets such as bin Laden.

"They would like nothing better than to be able to hide where they are hiding and have the United States reveal what we know and how we know it," he said, "which will make it easier for them to hide and will make it easier for them to carry out further actions if we report our sources and methods or how we obtain information. We're just not going to do that."

Besides, bin Laden and his terrorist network, known as al Qaeda, have already been implicated in earlier attacks against the United States.

"Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization have been indicted in connection with the bombings of the United States facilities in Kenya and Tanzania," said Mr. Fleischer. "That indictment stands on the books today. There are also indications that the al Qaeda organization was involved in the bombing of the [USS] Cole."

As the White House ratcheted up the rhetoric against the Taliban, President Bush continued to assemble his global coalition against terrorism, enlisting the support of three more nations with significant Muslim populations Turkey, Kenya and Oman. In Brussels, the European Union also pledged its support for "targeted retaliation" against states that harbor terrorism.

Mr. Bush released the first $5.1 billion in emergency spending that Congress authorized last week in a $40 billion package. The money will help pay for yesterday's additional military deployments and the placement of federal marshals on some airline flights. A portion was also earmarked for rewards for information about terrorists.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, who pledged nonmilitary cooperation in America's war against terrorism, especially in Central Asia.

"It has influence in that region," Mr. Powell said. "It has knowledge and information. It has intelligence that might be of help to us. And our counterterrorism experts will be getting together next week to explore every way in which the two sides can cooperate."

Mr. Tang said: "We firmly oppose and strongly condemn all forms of terrorism in all their evil acts, and both sides agree to carry out even better cooperation on these questions in the future." He later met with Mr. Bush.

For the first time in the 10 days since the terrorist attacks, which killed more than 6,500 people, Mr. Bush did not speak in public yesterday.

The White House did not want to dilute the lingering impact of his Thursday night address to a joint session of Congress, in which the president laid out his case for war.

A poll by NBC News yesterday showed a whopping 95 percent of Americans reacted favorably to the speech, with only 2 percent reacting unfavorably.

A Fox News Channel poll found the president's overall job-performance rating, which stood at 55 percent just weeks ago, has skyrocketed to 81 percent.

The public appears particularly supportive of Mr. Bush's tough stance against the Taliban, the Islamic organization that controls most of Afghanistan. During his address Thursday, Mr. Bush gave the Taliban a stark ultimatum that was reiterated yesterday by the White House.

Mr. Fleischer said the president "expects the Taliban to honor the demands that he made in his speech last night: to cease their efforts to support and harbor terrorists; and to turn terrorists over to the United States or other authorities; and to allow the United States access to the terrorists' camps."

But with the Taliban already refusing to carry out such tasks without proof of bin Laden's culpability, the U.S. military is coiling to make good on the president's threat to annihilate the Taliban.

"He's put them on notice," Mr. Fleischer said of his boss. "And he is preparing to do what must inevitably come next."

He added: "Suffice it to say, the reason the president met with his National Security Council this morning, that he will do so again tomorrow, is because the planning is active and under way."

Meanwhile, a Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters yesterday that Islamabad, which has pledged its support to the U.S. war on terrorism, also is urging bin Laden to leave Afghanistan amid preparations for possible retaliatory attacks.

"We hope that the Taliban leadership, keeping in view the gravity of the situation, will take a prompt decision which is in the interest of Afghanistan and its people and which satisfies the concerns and demands of the international community," Riaz Mohammed Khan said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld scoffed at reports that the United States is contemplating the use of nuclear weapons in its war against terrorism.

He also said the United States is seeking ideas and intelligence from the Northern Alliance, a group of anti-Taliban rebels that controls less than 10 percent of Afghanistan.

Mr. Bush met yesterday in the White House with insurance-industry executives who are facing tens of billions of dollars in life and property claims in the wake of last week's terrorist strikes. While the executives said the industry could absorb the blow without a government bailout, they called for federal help in the event of future terrorist strikes.

Afterward, the president and Mrs. Bush departed for Camp David.

As they emerged on the South Lawn to board Marine One, the presidential helicopter, they were greeted by 300 White House employees who cheered and waved American flags.

Mr. Bush gave them a thumbs-up before departing for a weekend of national security meetings at the presidential retreat in Maryland. In a display of stepped-up security, Marine One was escorted by F-16 fighter jets.

Tomorrow, Mr. Bush will hold a ceremony raising U.S. flags to their full height after a dozen days of mourning, during which Old Glory was flown at half-mast. Upon returning to the White House next week, the president will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Monday and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Tuesday.

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