- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

Osama bin Laden offered the U.S. a “truce” in Iraq and Afghanistan in a new audiotape aired yesterday on Al Jazeera Arabic-language TV — a proposal the White House rejected immediately.

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Vice President Dick Cheney said. “I think you have to destroy them.”

Bin Laden, who ordered the September 11 attacks and is supporting jihadist suicide bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan, also warned that plans to attack America are under way.

A U.S. counterterror official said the CIA authenticated the tape as the voice of bin Laden, who last surfaced 13 months ago in an audiotape in which he endorsed Abu Musab Zarqawi’s campaign of killing in Iraq.

In a four-minute excerpt of the new tape, bin Laden said he had “the way to end” the fighting. He said his new message was a direct appeal to the American people, an apparent attempt to exploit President Bush’s low job approval ratings because of the Iraq war.

“The war in Iraq is raging and operations in Afghanistan are on the rise in our favor,” he said. “Iraq has become a point of attraction and recruitment of qualified resources.”

Bin Laden raised the prospect of a cease-fire, but did not provide a plan.

“We do not object to a long-term truce with you on the basis of fair conditions we respect. … In this truce, both parties will enjoy security and stability and we will build Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the war,” he said.

“There is no defect in this solution other than preventing the flow of hundreds of billions to the influential people and war merchants in America, who supported Bush’s election campaign with billions of dollars.”

Mr. Cheney called talk of a truce a “ploy.”

“I don’t think anybody would believe him,” he said on Fox News Channel.

Bin Laden, in his many messages and press interviews dating back to the 1990s, has never spoken before of a truce, only war.

Since bin Laden’s last message in December 2004, he has seen a wave of democracy in his region. Iraqis ignored his earlier call to boycott elections and participated overwhelmingly in three elections to pick a temporary parliament, approve a new constitution and then elect a permanent assembly. Afghanistan has elected a permanent government.

“I think, clearly, if you look at the last time we heard from bin Laden, you can see the kind of pressure he’s under,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “Last time, remember, he was telling the Iraqi people not to show up and vote. Well, we saw how that turned out.”

Bin Laden mocked Mr. Bush’s argument that new security measures have foiled attacks on U.S. soil the past four years.

“As for the delay in carrying our similar operations in America, this was not due to the failure to breach your security measures,” he said, according to a BBC translation. “Operations are in preparation and you will see them on your own ground once the preparations are finished.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it has no indication of an imminent attack and has no intention of raising the threat level. The threat level yesterday remained at “yellow,” which is in the middle of the scale.

Military officials say bin Laden likely slipped through U.S. and Afghan allies in the Tora Bora mountain range in December 2001, and is hiding in vast ungoverned spaces of tribal Pakistan, where he has many militant sympathizers. Intelligence analysts think he was wounded or hurt during the invasion of Afghanistan.

The CIA on Saturday unleashed a missile strike in Pakistan from a Predator unmanned aircraft. Pakistan intelligence sources say the attack killed four al Qaeda members but did not get the intended U.S. target — al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Al Jazeera said bin Laden made the tape in January, according to the Associated Press. Ahmed al-Sheik, Al Jazeera’s editor-in-chief, declined to say how the network obtained the tape.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said the tape illustrates that bin Laden watches American public opinion.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean used the tape as a way to criticize the Bush administration over the Iraq war.

“I wish we had not spent as much of our time and efforts in Iraq as we have, because we really need, the real battle against terror is in Afghanistan and the surrounding areas where al Qaeda is now holed up,” Mr. Dean said.

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