- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

The United States and its chief ally yesterday expanded the war against terrorism to include the Taliban, which British Prime Minister Tony Blair said must either "surrender the terrorists or surrender power."

President Bush yesterday again rejected pleas from the militia that controls most of Afghanistan to negotiate a deal and said the Taliban not just terrorist Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda group will pay a price if it rejects his demands.

"I have said that the Taliban must turn over the al Qaeda organization living within Afghanistan, and must destroy the terrorist camps," the president said. "And they must do so, otherwise there will be a consequence.

"There are no negotiations, there's no calendar. We'll act on our time, and we'll do it in a manner that not only secures the United States as best as possible, but makes the freedom in the world more likely to exist in the future."

The president's comments came amid new support from world leaders for a sustained campaign against terrorism. Several, including Mr. Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin, said they were convinced of bin Laden's guilt after the United States shared evidence with them.

Mr. Blair delivered a blistering denunciation of the Taliban and al Qaeda, laying out the danger the world faces and saying that their actions have put them beyond the pale of civilized discourse.

"There is no compromise possible with such people. There's no meeting of minds, no point of understanding with such terror just a choice: Defeat it or be defeated by it.

"Let there be no moral ambiguity about this. Nothing could ever justify the events of the 11th of September, and it is to turn justice on its head to pretend it could," Mr. Blair told 3,000 delegates at his ruling Labor Party's annual conference. "Understand what we are dealing with. They have no moral inhibition on the slaughter of the innocent. If they could have murdered not 7,000, but 70,000, does anyone doubt they would have done so and rejoiced in it?

"And I say to the Taliban: Surrender the terrorists or surrender power. That is your choice."

Mr. Blair, speaking in Brighton, England, said he has no doubt who is behind the attacks that killed more than 6,000 Americans.

"We know those responsible. Bin Laden and his people organized this atrocity. The Taliban aid and abet him. He will not desist from further acts of terror; they will not stop helping," Mr. Blair said.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said the United States presented "clear and compelling evidence" to the alliance's 18 other member countries tying bin Laden and al Qaeda to the terror attacks.

"It is clear that all roads lead to al Qaeda and pinpoint Osama bin Laden as having been involved in it," Mr. Robertson said in Brussels after a classified briefing given to NATO's ruling council by U.S. Ambassador at Large Francis Taylor.

"We know that the individuals who carried out these attacks were part of the worldwide terrorist network al Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants and protected by the Taliban," he said.

The evidence will allow North Atlantic Treaty Organization to activate, for the first time in its 52-year history, Article 5 of its founding charter, which states that an attack from abroad on one member is considered an attack on all.

Last night, Mr. Bush hailed the stand taken by Mr. Blair and associated himself with Mr. Blair's tough language.

"The Taliban needs to heed what I said to the Congress," he said while dining at Morton's Steakhouse in Washington with D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams. "There will be no negotiations. They need to root al Qaeda out of their country and bring them to justice. They need to know I am serious about that. The [prime minister] was echoing exactly what I said to the U.S. Congress."

The administration also stepped up pressure on Congress to pass anti-terrorism measures by week's end, with Attorney General John Ashcroft accusing Democrats of stalling.

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve today a bill to expand from two days to seven days the FBI's authority to detain "suspected terrorist aliens" without filing charges, and permitting the use of "roving" wiretaps and increasing the penalties for terrorist acts.

After Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair made their comments yesterday, a Taliban leader held a press conference in Pakistan to call on the United States to open talks with the regime.

"We are prepared for negotiations," said Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef. "We will not follow war instead of negotiations."

But he said the Taliban cannot turn over bin Laden without proof of his involvement in the attacks.

"We condemn terrorism and the terrorist authorities but we need evidence and we need proof, which is the good way to solve problems," the ambassador said. "We want justice, but where is the evidence? Where is the proof? If they want to solve it, they should start negotiating."

Asked about Taliban complaints that the United States was sharing information with Pakistan but not with the Taliban, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "I don't address Taliban complaints."

The Bush administration continued yesterday to seek world support, announcing that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld will travel to the Middle East for talks with political and military leaders in the region.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who departed last night, will visit Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan. Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said he was traveling "to talk about the campaign against terrorism and have significant consultations over there."

Mr. Bush chose Mr. Rumsfeld for the trip because "we do want to have consultations about the defense arrangements. We want to make sure we have the consultations at the highest level."

The trip comes as the U.S. military presence in Southwest Asia has grown to more than 30,000 personnel over the past two weeks. Two aircraft carrier battle groups, an amphibious assault force and about 350 military aircraft are now in the region, Miss Clarke said.

Another carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, departed Monday for the area from Tokyo. A fourth carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was in the Mediterranean exercising with Egyptian forces. Its original deployment plan called for a six-month cruise through the Mediterranean and the Gulf.

The Pentagon also has deployed B-52 and B-1 bombers from U.S. bases to points in the region along with surveillance, reconnaissance and support aircraft.

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