- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told a Senate panel today that what appears to be a new statement from Osama bin Laden shows why the world needs to be concerned about Iraqi ties to terrorism.

Mr. Powell said he read a transcript of "what bin Laden - or who we believe to be bin Laden" will be saying on the Al-Jazeera Arab satellite station later today, "where once again he speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq."

Al-Jazeera chief editor Ibrahim Hilal told The Associated Press late today that his office had just received an audio tape with bin Laden's voice. He said he and the station's board were listening to the tape and would make a decision on when to air it.

A headline at the bottom of the screen during regular programming tonight read, "Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden calls on all Muslims to unite to defend the Iraqi people, in an audio message Al-Jazeera will broadcast later."

The secretary earlier told the Senate Budget Committee, "This nexus between terrorists and states that are developing weapons of mass destruction can no longer be looked away from and ignored."

At a separate hearing, CIA Director George Tenet said that he, too, was aware of a new communication from bin Laden, but told the Senate Intelligence Committee he had not been briefed on its contents. "I don't know what the contents will be," Mr. Tenet told the panel.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, asked about this, said Mr. Powell had "summed up what we have heard - accurately. I think this is something that you may hear more about." He said Mr. Powell "wouldn't have said what he said if he didn't have a basis for it."

Pressed during the daily news briefing to say whether the administration actually had access to the broadcast or a transcript of it, Mr. Fleischer replied, "I couldn't tell you the precise form of the knowledge of it." But the spokesman reiterated that he thought Mr. Powell had a legitimate basis for raising the issue.

Mr. Fleischer said the tape gives "further proof" and "great concern" about the administration's claims of ties between al-Qaida and Iraq.

The Capitol Hill appearance was Mr. Powell's second before the Senate since his presentation to the U.N. Security Council last week. At that time, he detailed his indictment of Iraq as a deceptive stockpiler of weapons of mass destruction.

Lawmakers have praised Mr. Powell's U.N. performance, but many Democrats remain skeptical about whether war is necessary, particularly if key U.S. allies remain opposed.

The split between the United States and its allies widened when France, Germany and Belgium jointly vetoed yesterday a U.S.-backed measure to authorize NATO to make plans to protect Turkey if Iraq attacks it. Russia then joined France and Germany in demanding strengthened weapons inspections.

President Bush, meanwhile, continued on a path of intensive diplomacy, urging support for his hard line against Saddam in phone conversations with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Angola is a fellow Security Council member who shares Mr. Bush's view that Saddam must disarm, Mr. Fleischer said.

Responding to concerns of Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., that the United States was putting its international alliances in jeopardy over Iraq, Mr. Powell said "we're not breaking up the alliance."

Mr. Powell noted that the U.N. resolution demanding that Iraq disarm was approved unanimously by the Security Council and said it is the United Nations' responsibility to enforce the resolution.

"Who's breaking up the alliance? Not the United States," Mr. Powell said. "The alliance is breaking itself up because it will not meet its responsibilities."

Mr. Powell noted that while "much is being said about disagreement in NATO," that 16 members - including the United States and Turkey - back the U.S. position, while three - France, Germany and Belgium - oppose it.

"I think this is time for the alliance to say to the fellow alliance member, `We agree with you and if you are concerned, we are concerned.' That's what alliances are all about and I hope NATO will be doing the right thing with respect to Turkey within the next 24 hours," he said.

Mr. Powell said the United States is prepared to work with the 14 other nations to give Turkey the helps it needs if it cannot win formal NATO support.

Committee Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla, said of France "I'm amazed at their presumption that they are controlling the (NATO) alliance, but they are not a part of the military alliance."

France's stand on Turkey could signal its steadfast opposition or even a threatened veto to a U.S.-backed resolution at the United Nations that would authorize force to disarm Iraq and remove President Saddam Hussein from power.

Mr. Fleischer said earlier today there was still a reasonable expectation that Mr. Bush could persuade the Security Council to adopt a new resolution.

"At the end of the day, the president would like to believe the United Nations will be relevant," he told reporters.

In Brussels, a second day of heated negotiations failed to end one of the worst crises in NATO's 53-year history: a split triggered when France, Germany and Belgium blocked U.S. plans to defend Turkey in a possible new Persian Gulf war. After behind-the-scene talks throughout the day, ambassadors from the 19 NATO countries met for only 20 minutes Tuesday evening before ending the session.

In Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors paid a surprise visit to a Baghdad missile plant today as international experts met behind closed doors in New York to assess whether Iraq's short-range missiles can fly farther than permitted under U.N. edicts.

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