- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

The number of U.S. government and nongovernmental officials who will travel to the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar for the World Trade Organization meeting is dropping rapidly amid growing fears of a terrorist attack.
In security briefings over the past week, the Bush administration has warned that it cannot rule out terrorist acts during the meeting. But administration officials did not cite specific threats, according to delegates at the briefings.
The U.S. delegation, which had been expected to include dozens of officials from the executive branch, Congress and the private sector, is now half its original size, according to a U.S. trade official.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick acknowledged concerns about holding the meeting in the Qatari capital, Doha, and stressed that the United States was stepping up security measures.
"We are working closely with our own authorities and people overseas to make sure we have security, but there are undoubtedly risks," he said Tuesday.
The U.S. delegation is scheduled to include Mr. Zoellick and two Cabinet members: Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman and Secretary of Commerce Donald L. Evans.
At the Doha meeting, WTO members hope to open new negotiations on breaking down barriers to international trade in areas such as agriculture and services. The last attempt to start a new trade round collapsed in Seattle in 1998 amid bitter disagreements between rich and poor countries, and sometimes violent protests.
"That seemed easy by comparison" to the risks of holding a meeting in Doha, said one congressional aide who plans to attend.
Before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan, Qatar was widely seen as so secure there would be little organized protest.
Qatari officials, who vigorously lobbied other WTO members to host the meeting and then narrowly averted a decision to relocate the event to Singapore, insisted they will provide for a safe meeting.
"We will ensure the security of everyone taking part, and we have the means to do so," said Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed al-Thani, spokesman for the Qatari committee organizing the meeting. "Qatar has already successfully organized regional and international meetings."
U.S. security officials nevertheless assured participants that the United States would take additional steps.
"They warned us that security would be very, very tight," one participant in the briefings said.
The greatest worry from the U.S. side has been the possibility that the Qatari military has been infiltrated, even at senior levels, by Islamic fundamentalists with links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network, according to delegates briefed on security.
Yet security officials also expressed some confidence in the Qatari police forces, many of whose members have been trained in Western countries, and who will have the primary responsibility for security at the WTO meeting.
Many business lobbyists and nongovernmental organizations who have attended past WTO events have dropped out of the Qatar meeting. Many privately said they could not stomach the security situation, and others saw little reason to be in Doha.
"There are risks, our issues are not the main issues of contention, why should I go?" said one lobbyist, who asked not to be identified.


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