War talk unsettles several leaders
By ALAN FREEMAN
With reports from Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters
Wednesday, September 19, 2001
LONDON -- U.S. President George W. Bush began a series of face-to-face meetings with world leaders yesterday as efforts to build a global antiterrorism coalition gained momentum. However, there were still signs that some governments are reluctant to give their unqualified backing for military action.
As French President Jacques Chirac met Mr. Bush for dinner at the White House last night, a whirlwind of top-level meetings was continuing around the globe to put in place a coalition that is as wide as possible to back what Mr. Bush has called his "war against terrorism."
Mr. Chirac will be followed by Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the foreign ministers of Russia, China and Germany, plus British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will meet Mr. Bush tomorrow. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien will travel to the White House next week for talks.
Saudi Arabia, birthplace of fugitive Osama bin Laden, has promised the United States full co-operation in its antiterrorist battle, but King Fahd could risk alienating those Muslims in his country who sympathize with Mr. bin Laden's goals, if not his methods.
European governments, who are to meet Friday in a special antiterrorism summit called by the 15-nation European Union, have expressed support for the U.S. government, but several have shied away from the U.S. plans for a "war" against terrorism.
Mr. Chirac, who has already pledged that France will be "totally supportive" once those responsible are identified, said last night in Washington that France "stands in total solidarity."
But French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin made it clear yesterday that despite Paris's declared solidarity with Washington, France retains full sovereignty over any actions that are eventually decided.
"It's not a war," Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel declared earlier this week, expressing similar sentiments. "You can't just use words like that. There needs to be a 'mobilization' against terrorism."
Italian Defence Minister Antonio Martino has "categorically excluded" any "extraordinary call to arms."
Johannes Rau, Germany's largely ceremonial President, has called for the United States to respond to the terrorist attacks "with civil means," but Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Germany's leader, hasn't ruled out the possibility of German military backing for a U.S. strike. "You can't have a position of 'wash my skin, but don't get me wet,' " he said.
Mr. Blair, who remains Washington's most stalwart European ally, has begun his own round of coalition building. Yesterday, at a special meeting held at his Chequers retreat, he joined six African leaders in vowing to "rid the world of terrorism."
A joint statement by Mr. Blair and the presidents of Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania said they promise "to strengthen international co-operation, to cut off financial support to terrorists and to dismantle terrorist networks wherever they exist."
India, Pakistan's powerful neighbour and rival, said it is part of the antiterrorism coalition but made it clear it thinks the campaign should be broadened to include the fight against terrorist actions India says are the work of Islamic terrorists alleged to have received Pakistani backing.
But India's top Muslim cleric said yesterday that the attacks in New York and Washington were signs of "divine wrath," warning that Americans must change their "anti-Muslim" policies.
"In my opinion, it is a reaction to the oppressive activities of the U.S. on Muslims in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan."