Bush sees Qaeda in Kenya attack - Says terrorism stalls Mideast peace talks (THE BOSTON GLOBE) By Anne E. Kornblut WASHINGTON 12/05/02 page A8)
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WASHINGTON - President Bush for the first time directly incriminated
Al Qaeda in the twin attacks on Israeli tourists in Kenya, saying
yesterday that the latest wave of terrorism is bringing the already
shattered Israeli-Palestinian peace process to a halt.
Expressing strong sympathy for the most recent victims of terrorism,
Bush portrayed Israel and the United States as allies brought
together by a common enemy. He declined to answer when asked whether
Al Qaeda is now operating in Palestinian territory on the West Bank,
and instead offered support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s
efforts to crush terrorist networks in that region.
´´The net effect of terrorism is to not only stop the peace process,
but is to cause suffering amongst all the people of the region,´´
Bush said. ´´I fully understand the Israeli government´s attempt to
stamp out terror, because we´ll never have peace so long as
terrorists are able to disrupt.´´
He spoke at a sensitive time for the Bush administration, as UN
weapons inspectors continued to hunt for weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq and White House officials struggled to keep pressure on
Saddam Hussein despite a lack of new evidence against the Iraqi
Bush advisers tried repeatedly to massage comments he made earlier in
the week that appeared to dismiss the current inspection process.
When Bush said on Monday that the early signs in Iraq were ´´not
encouraging´´ - a grim assessment that was later contradicted by UN
Secretary Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell - the
president was not actually referring to the inspections themselves,
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.
Instead, the remark was an ´´assessment on the totality of Iraqi
behavior´´ over the last decade, Fleischer said.
At the same time, Fleischer also sought to qualify Bush´s comments
yesterday on Al Qaeda, warning reporters just hours after Bush spoke
not to conclude that the terrorist group is definitely responsible
for the attack in Kenya.
In those remarks, Bush said: ´´I believe that Al Qaeda was involved
in the African bombings, in Kenya. I believe Al Qaeda hates freedom.
I believe Al Qaeda will strike anywhere they can in order to disrupt
a civil society. And that´s why we´re on the hunt. And we´re making
progress, slowly but surely we´re dismantling the Al Qaeda network.´´
´´I think if the president thought it was definite, he would have
said, ´It is definite.´ It is,´´´ Fleischer said. ´´The president,
quoting his words, said, ´I believe it was Al Qaeda.´ So the
president is ... following up and sharing with you the suspicions
that you´ve heard from previous quarters.´´
White House officials have intensified their focus on East Africa
since the attacks last week, a car-bomb explosion at an Israeli-owned
hotel in Mombasa and an attempt to shoot down an Israeli passenger
jet with a surface-to-air missile as it departed the same coastal
city. Ten Kenyans, three Israelis, and three suicide bombers were
killed in the car bombing.
Bush, who is scheduled to meet today with President Daniel arap Moi
of Kenya at the White House and is also dispatching Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the region next week, did not specifically
state that the attacks in Mombasa were designed to destroy the Middle
East peace process, which has been disintegrating since the start of
the intifadah in September of 2000.
Bush did, however, strongly suggest that terrorism is to blame for
the ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East - a position that some
foreign policy analysts dispute, given that the conflict between
Israelis and Palestinians began decades before Al Qaeda was formed in
´´The peace process would have been in trouble [even] if Osama bin
Laden had never been born,´´ said Stephen Walt, of the Belfer Center
for International Studies at Harvard. ´´Al Qaeda´s existence is not
why peace has been elusive; the peace process was breaking down long
before Sept. 11.´´
Bush has been criticized for not taking an active enough role in the
Middle East, and has faced sharp resistance from other countries in
the region for wanting to move against Iraq before first settling the
violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Bush has also
seemed to focus his sympathies frequently on Israeli victims of
suicide bombings, drawing the wrath of Palestinians and other Arabs,
despite his own call for an independent Palestinian state.
The president skipped an opportunity to criticize the Israeli
government yesterday, when he was asked about a strike by the Israeli
Defense Forces that left a 95-year-old Palestinian woman dead. He
focused instead on the broader concept of terrorism, saying he
was ´´concerned that terrorists have disrupted the ability for peace-
loving people to move a process forward.´´
Asked whether the terrorist network is operating in the West Bank,
Bush replied, ´´I am concerned about Al Qaeda anywhere.´´
(© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company. 12/05/02)
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