- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

The Bush administration yesterday stepped up its coalition-building effort in the war against terrorism, but it made clear it retains the option of unilateral military retaliation for this week's attacks in New York and Washington.
At the same time, NATO insisted it was not drawing up plans for a massive attack on Afghanistan, should it be proved that Saudi multimillionaire Osama bin Laden was behind Tuesday's strikes. The alliance also said its support for the United States doesn't mean its members are obligated to participate in a military operation.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who yesterday became the first U.S. official to publicly identify bin Laden as a leading suspect, said Washington was trying to form a coalition flexible enough to accept unilateral U.S. action.
"We will do it in such a way that, if the United States feels a need to act alone, by itself, we will not be constrained by the fact that we are working with others as well," Mr. Powell told a State Department news briefing.
"But at the same time, because we are working with others, there may well come along specific things that can be done by all of us together," he said. "There may be some things that the United States has to do alone, and we will always reserve the right to do that."
In Brussels, NATO officials said their Wednesday pledge for collective assistance to the United States doesn't mean the alliance is about to go to war.
"NATO denies flatly that it is involved in any planning activity to invade any country in the world," NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur told the Agence France-Presse news service. "This is not true. It's ridiculous. It's absurd."
Washington is much more likely to strike alone, perhaps with a few selected partners in supporting roles, rather than endure the alliance's cumbersome decision-making procedures, reports from the NATO headquarters quoted diplomats as saying.
In an unprecedented move Wednesday, NATO declared readiness to apply for the first time in its history Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, which holds that an attack against any member "will be considered as directed against all the parties."
"What Article 5 means is that members of the alliance must assist the ally that's been attacked," Mr. Brodeur said. "But they are free to choose the means to employ for that purpose. They don't have to send troops."
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said in a CNN interview it was up to the United States first to determine if the attack came from abroad and then to decide how to react before turning to NATO.
"The alliance will, in accordance with its rules and in accordance with international law, take whatever action will be appropriate in the circumstances to assist," he said.
In a rare accord yesterday, NATO and Russia agreed to tighten anti-terrorist cooperation. Moscow has pledged full support for the United States, and the NATO-Russian forum called on the rest of the world to join the struggle against terrorism.
"If they get away with it in New York and Washington, you can be pretty certain they will go for another city next time, and Moscow may well be second on the list," Mr. Robertson said.
Russia, which has been fighting a war against separatists in its southern province of Chechnya, believes bin Laden is behind the Muslim insurgency there.
Washington also is seeking Russian help in its dealings with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, as well as other states believed to support terrorism.
Mr. Powell said yesterday next week's visit to Moscow of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, as part of the joint U.S.-Russia working group on Afghanistan, should produce "active discussions."
"I'm sure they will be helpful on many things. It's their neighborhood. They do have a great deal of experience in Afghanistan, and we will draw on all of that experience," he said, referring to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
President Bush yesterday made a series of phone calls to world leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Mr. Robertson.
Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, said a U.N. Security Council resolution that "declared that this attack on the United States is a threat to international peace and security," makes it "comforting for Americans to know that nations around the world are joining in coalition with the United States to combat terrorism."
Mr. Powell said the war against terrorism involves military as well as economic, political, diplomatic and financial action.
"All sorts of things can be used to prosecute a campaign, to prosecute a war," he said. "And we will be looking at every tool that we have, every weapon that we have to go after terrorism and to go after these specific organizations, and in building a coalition of the kind that we are building now."


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