- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 6, 2001

The White House yesterday dismissed Afghan terrorist Osama bin Laden's claim that the American retaliatory strikes are prompted by a "religious war" against Muslims.
In a videotape aired Saturday on the Qatar-based satellite television channel Al Jazeera, bin Laden said, "This is primarily a religious war." He called on Muslims to "defend their religion and their brothers in Afghanistan" against the "crusade" being led by the United States against the nation's Taliban rulers.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday President Bush believes the tape shows just how desperate bin Laden has become.
"He dismisses it as more propaganda that shows how isolated bin Laden is from fellow Muslims and the rest of the world," Mr. Fleischer said.
While the spokesman said Mr. Bush "probably" watched parts of the tape, "the president really doesn't pay much attention to the things bin Laden says because he views it just as propaganda, without truth, without fact."
The White House comment followed the swift rejection of bin Laden's message by Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who said bin Laden "does not speak in the name of the Arabs and Muslims," and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, who said there was "a war between bin Laden and the world."
The White House also praised the Coalition Information Center, a quick-response agency established last week to refute false claims and statements by the Taliban or the al Qaeda terrorist network.
Within hours of Al Jazeera airing the bin Laden statement at 1 p.m. Saturday, former Ambassador to Syria Christopher Ross, now a special adviser to the State Department, appeared live on the station.
Speaking Arabic, Mr. Ross addressed "some of the issues raised in the message from Osama bin Laden," Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Ross then participated in a 90-minute discussion show about events in Afghanistan and in the Middle East.
"I think one of the early successes that you can see for the Coalition Information Center is the ability to respond very quickly in Arabic in a key part of the world, as America gets its message to other nations," Mr. Fleischer said.
Also yesterday, Mr. Bush signed the Military Construction Act of 2002, which provides $10.5 billion for military construction and family housing programs.
"The requested projects are critical to supporting military readiness and the quality of life for our soldiers," Mr. Bush said in a statement.
While the president lauded Congress for working quickly to pass the bill, he said he was "disappointed" that the legislation cut $55 million from the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization.
At 7:10 this morning, Mr. Bush will address East European leaders gathered at an informal summit in Warsaw. Mr. Bush will appear live in a videoconference with presidents and other officials from Poland and 16 other states to kick off a debate on boosting security in Europe's less stable regions.
The Warsaw summit will bring together presidents or other officials from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine and Yugoslavia.
Mr. Bush is making a major push this week to maintain international support for the military campaign in Afghanistan, now in its fifth week. Yesterday he met with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He meets today with French President Jacques Chirac, then tomorrow with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The president will meet with eight world leaders this week and make what Bush officials are calling a "national address" Thursday at a time and place the White House has yet to announce.


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