Friday, August 5, 2005

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush yesterday vowed that America will not be swayed by a surge in U.S. deaths in Iraq or a new threat from a top al Qaeda leader who warns that the United States will suffer tens of thousands of military dead if it does not withdraw.

“We will stay on the offense against these people,” the president said of the comments by Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s second in command. “They’re terrorists and they’re killers and they will kill innocent people … so they can impose their dark vision on the world,” Mr. Bush said as he stood alongside Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Al-Zawahri — who Mr. Bush said was “part of the team that attacked us” on September 11, 2001 — yesterday warned Britain and the United States of more attacks in a new videotape shown on Al Jazeera television and rebroadcast around the world.

“These policies [of British Prime Minister Tony Blair] will bring them more destruction after the explosions of London,” al-Zawahri said, four weeks to the day after 52 persons were killed by four suicide attackers in transport bombings.

Al-Zawahri demanded that “all the infidel armies withdraw from the land of Muhammad,” accused the U.S. and its allies of “stealing our oil and wealth,” and compared the military situation in Afghanistan and Iraq to the war in Vietnam.

“If you go on with the same policy of aggression against Muslims, you will see, God willing, what will make you forget the horrible things in Vietnam,” he said.

But Mr. Bush vowed to “stay the course” in Iraq.

“We owe it to the American people and other freedom-loving countries to bring these killers to justice,” he told reporters at his Texas ranch.

Mr. Bush said al Qaeda’s “goal is to drive us out of the broader Middle East.”

“The comments by the number two man of al Qaeda make it clear Iraq is a part of this war on terror, and we’re at war. He’s saying, you know, leave … as I have told the American people, the people like Zawahri have an ideology that is dark, dim, backwards,” Mr. Bush said. “He’s threatening. They have come up against a nation that will defend itself.”

The president said he will not give in to “thugs” because “we’ve had these kinds of clashes before and we have prevailed.”

“We have prevailed because we’re right, we have prevailed because we adhere to a hopeful philosophy, and we have prevailed because we would not falter,” he said.

Mr. Bush invited the Colombian president to his ranch — the 14th world leader to be bestowed such an honor — to talk about terrorism and the problem of narcotics trafficking, which funds many terror cells.

Mr. Uribe said that both he and Mr. Bush consider the war against international terrorism a top priority of both their countries.

“The great enemy of Colombian democracy is terrorism … and our great partner in defeating it has been the government and people of the United States,” he said in Spanish. “U.S. cooperation has been exemplary. It has gone beyond rhetoric. … All democratic countries should know that.”

Mr. Bush vowed continued U.S. aid to help Colombia fight narco-terrorism and to allow the country to continue to build its budding economy. “America will continue to stand with the people of Colombia,” he said.

Their meeting came just a day after the State Department announced Colombia has met human rights standards needed to qualify for full funding of future U.S. assistance programs.

During a short question-and-answer session with reporters, Mr. Bush also paid tribute to Marines who died over the past few days in bombings in Iraq, including a community from near Columbus, Ohio, which suffered more than 20 dead.

He said that the community of Brook Park “suffered mightily in the last couple of days. … I hope they can take comfort in the fact that millions of their fellow citizens pray for them.”

Mr. Bush also reminded Americans that there has been progress in Iraq, where 8 million people risked their lives in January to vote in free elections “in the face of Zawahris and Zarqawis and these killers.”

He reiterated his plan to bring U.S. troops home “as soon as possible,” which he said “means when those Iraqis are prepared to fight.”

“As Iraq stands up, our coalition will stand down. The Iraqis want to live in a free society. Zawahri doesn’t want them to live in a free society. And that’s the clash of ideologies — freedom versus tyranny,” he said.

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