- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002

The United States is telling several countries particularly Somalia they must deny safe haven to terrorists if they hope to avoid becoming battlefields in the U.S. war on terrorism, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday.
The warnings are part of a major diplomatic effort aimed at countries that either harbor terrorists or are likely to attract them, Mr. Powell said in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.
"And one [country] that immediately comes to mind and that has been mentioned particularly is Somalia," Mr. Powell said. He described Somalia as a "lawless place" that has a "past affiliation with such activity."
Mr. Powell said Somalia "is a place we are watching very, very carefully. Not just because it's a weak, broken state that's not a reason to go there. It's because terrorist activity might find some fertile ground there, and we don't want that to happen."
The Times, quoting intelligence sources, reported last week that U.S. and allied military forces were stepping up aerial reconnaissance over Somalia. Some 100 members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network were identified recently in that East African country, according to intelligence reports.
The terrorists belonged to an Islamic group there known as Al-Ittihad Al-Islam, U.S. officials told The Times. The Mogadishu-based group, known as AIAI, is linked to Somali warlord Hussein Mohammed Aideed and has close ties to al Qaeda.
A senior State Department official said yesterday that U.S. military activity in the region has been complemented by diplomatic initiatives.
"We are working with its neighbors and various authorities in Somalia" to prevent terrorist cells from being able to operate there, the official said.
The diplomatic offensive also is aimed at persuading other governments not to open their borders to members of al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations. Washington is helping those that already have terrorist cells on their territories to dismantle them, Mr. Powell said.
The Philippines, Indonesia, Yemen and Sudan are the four countries where the administration has focused its attention and efforts. In spite of "some great difficulties" with the Sudanese, "they have been somewhat forthcoming" since the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, the secretary said.
"We've got a major problem in the Sudan, but some new opportunities were opened up," he said. "We have started to have discussions with the Sudanese and point out to them, 'What do you get for letting people like this hang out in the Sudan? What does it do for you, except bring down the condemnation of the entire world? It does not put one bowl of rice in front of anyone. And so let's start trying to move in a new direction.'"
On Iraq, another potential target for the anti-terror campaign, Mr. Powell said the administration is "constantly reviewing our plans, our intelligence activities, military options and other options with respect to regime change."
Mr. Powell, who spoke in a functional conference room next to his seventh-floor State Department office suite, also said he considered progress in resolving the Middle East conflict as crucial to America's anti-terror efforts.
Israel's seizure last week of a ship carrying 50 tons of weapons a military action the retired army general described as a "neat piece of work" served to "escalate" that conflict, he said.
"Beyond that, it is deeply troubling to see the kinds of weapons that were being introduced into this volatile area," he said.
The secretary said that "evidence and information" the United States received from the Israelis indicated the shipment originated in Iran and was going to the Palestinians, though not necessarily Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
"I have no reason to believe that the ship was not heading to the region," he said. "There is a heavy burden on Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to explain what they know about this and get to the bottom of this, because this is an escalation."
Visiting Israeli Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit yesterday called Mr. Arafat, who had denied knowledge of the weapons, a cheat and a liar who would not fool the United States.
"It's cheating, and that's very bad," he said after a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. "The [U.S.] administration doesn't like people who cheat on them or lie to them."
The administration expects to learn more about Thursday's incident when an Israeli intelligence team meets with U.S. officials in Washington today, Mr. Powell said.
The U.S. envoy for the Middle East, Gen. Anthony Zinni, conveyed Washington's "condemnation" of the arms-smuggling effort in a meeting with Mr. Arafat on Friday.
Gen. Zinni, who returned to Washington on Monday after four days in the region, was expected to brief Mr. Powell on his latest mission. "Then we'll send him back in due course in the very near future," the secretary said.
"We have to reach a situation where a single car bomber or a single guy shooting a pistol in the air cannot derail this process," he said in reference to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's insistence on seven days of complete peace before new negotiations. "We are not there yet, but things have quieted significantly."
Mr. Powell expressed satisfaction that all the major international players the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, China and Russia "have been able to communicate with almost one single, coherent voice to both the Palestinians and to the Israelis."
All those players are telling both sides that the best route to peace "is the Mitchell plan," he said, referring to last year's report of a committee headed by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.
Reviewing the Bush administration's first year in office, Mr. Powell cited three main foreign-policy achievements:
Structuring "in a very strong way" the U.S. relationship with Russia despite America's decision to pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Ending the year "on a good note with China" after that nation's seizure of a U.S. spy plane in the spring and its detention of U.S.-based scholars.
Bringing the Europeans "to a calmer level of concern with respect to the United States."
"There was a lot of concern earlier in the year that because we took some unilateral positions that were positions of principle for us that somehow the United States was going off into the wild blue yonder and leave Europe. We didn't," he said. He cited as an example the rejection of the Kyoto treaty on climate change.
Mr. Powell, who noted he will attend an Afghanistan reconstruction conference in Tokyo Jan. 21- 22, said the United States will remain "very engaged" in the war-ravaged country long after the military operation there is over.
"We will have to help the Afghan government build an army that is the right kind of army, not just a bunch of warlords thrown together," he said. "We will have to help them rebuild their society, help them rebuild an economy."

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