Bush, in first prime-time news conference, says terrorism campaign could take ‘year or two’
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush said Thursday night ”it may take a year or two” to track down Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network in Afghanistan, but asserted that after a five-day aerial bombardment, ”we’ve got them on the run.”
At a prime-time news conference at the White House, Bush said he did not know whether bin Laden was dead or alive. ”I want him brought to justice,” he said of the shadowy figure believed behind the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that killed 5,000 people one month ago.
Bush, at times forceful, emotional and funny, look confidently beyond his war with the Taliban regime and suggested that the United Nations help rebuild Afghanistan with help from the United States. He warned other terrorist-harboring nations that they may be next, with an ominous nod to Suddam Hussein’s Iraq.
”We’re watching him very carefully,” he said of Hussein, defeated by Bush’s father in the Persian Gulf War. Some Bush advisers want to turn next against Hussein, whom the president called an ”evil man.”
Bush said that an FBI warning issued earlier in the day was the result of a ”general threat” of possible future terrorist acts the government had received. ”I hope it’s the last, but given the attitude of the evildoers it may not be,” he said.
At the same time, he sought to reassure Americans the government was doing all it could to make them safe. ”If we receive specific intelligence that targets a specific building or city or facility I can assure you our government will do everything possible to protect the citizens,” he said.
He urged all Americans to report anything suspicious to law enforcement authorities.
Despite the aerial pounding, Bush held out a carrot to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan harboring bin Laden. ”You still have a second chance. Just bring him in and bring his leaders and lieutenants and other thugs and criminals with him.”
Asked whether he envisioned expanding military action beyond Afghanistan to Iraq or Syria, Bush said that the United States would ”bring to justice” nations that harbor terrorists. He said the administration has already had success rooting members of bin Laden’s al-Qaida network from nations other than Afghanistan – a reference, aides said later, to terrorist arrests in France and Germany, among others.
”We’re looking for al-Qaida cells around the world,” Bush said, and if the United States finds any, it will pursue them.
Bush spoke at the first prime-time news conference of his presidency, but more importantly, one month to the day after terrorist attacks in New York and Washington murdered thousands, damaged the nation’s economy and shattered its complacency.
In the month since, the president has labored to construct a foundation for an international war on terrorism, moving to choke off the funding essential for terrorists to carry out their strikes, lining up support from other nations, creating a new Office of Homeland Security and – beginning on Sunday – unleashing the nation’s military.
The news conference capped a national day of remembrance. There were memorial services around the nation to remember the more than 5,000 people killed when suicide hijackers seized four commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside.
At the news conference, Bush calmly fielded 13 questions in 40 minutes – disarming his questioners at times with humor. When a reporter promised to ask a follow-up question, Bush joked, ”Thank you for the warning.”
Vice President Dick Cheney, kept away from the White House in recent days for security reasons, ”looks swell,” he said with a grin.
On serious matters, Bush said that Syria, a nation often linked with terrorist groups, had expressed a desire to help with the anti-terror coalition. ”We’ll give them an opportunity to do so.” He did not give specifics on the type of assistance Syria offered, but said he takes it seriously.
”If you want to join the coalition against terror, we will welcome you,” Bush said.
Asked whether he was calling for sacrifice from Americans as part of the war against terrorism, Bush said, ”I think there’s a certain sacrifice when you lose a piece of your soul.” He said he had seen tears in the eyes of some of the people attending a ceremony of remembrance earlier in the day at the Pentagon.
Bush said that despite Russia’s cooperation in the war on terrorism, he had not changed his mind about abandoning the Cold War-era Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and proceeding with a U.S. missile defense system. He said the 1972 ABM treaty ”is outdated, antiquated and useless,” and said it makes sense to permit development of an alternative system that could thwart terrorist attempts to launch missile strikes.
”I am more than anxious to continue making my case” to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.
He urged American children to send $1 to help impoverished Afghanistan youngers. The money, which he asked to be mailed to the White House, will symbolize the nation’s compassion and give children something to do in reaction to the strikes, aides said.
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