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Bush promises relentless pressure to keep major weapons from Taliban, bin Laden

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush pledged Tuesday ``to keep relentless military pressure'' on Osama bin Laden and his Taliban protectors in Afghanistan, saying it is essential to keep terrorists from acquiring nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

``This is an evil man we're dealing with and I wouldn't put it past him to develop evil weapons to try to harm civilization as we know it,'' Bush said. He spoke after meeting at the White House with French President Jacques Chirac.

Bush said he didn't know for sure whether bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization have such weapons. But, he added, ``He announced that this was his intention and I believe we need to take him seriously.

``We will do everything we can to make sure he does not acquire the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction. If he does have them ... we'll make sure he doesn't deploy them,'' Bush said.

``That's why we work hard to keep our coalition bound together, and that's why we're going to keep relentless military pressure on him in Afghanistan,'' he added.

Bush said he and Chirac discussed ``our common efforts to fight terror.''

``I appreciate your help on the military front, Mr. President,'' Bush told Chiraq.

France has said it would send special ground forces to Afghanistan if requested, and has agreed to open its airspace to warplanes.

Chirac said France already has committed 2,000 members of its military to various support phases of the U.S.-led operation.

Chirac told Bush: ``I admire your calm and your determination in the difficult circumstances that we have to face together.''

Earlier, in comments via video satellite link to a meeting in Poland of leaders of former Soviet bloc countries, Bush compared the fight against terrorism to a new Cold War and Afghanistan's Taliban leaders to the totalitarian rulers who enslaved much of Europe a half century ago.

``Today our freedom is threatened once again,'' he said.

And previewing his speech to the U.N. General Assembly Saturday, Bush said he would tell delegates, ``No nation can be neutral in this conflict because no civilized nation can be secure in a world threatened by terrorism.''

Leaders at the 20-nation conference in Poland, many eager to bring their ex-communist countries under the NATO military umbrella of the West, greeted the remarks with warm applause.

``Bush's speech to us proves that east-central Europe has a hugely important role to play,'' said Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

In those earlier remarks to the Warsaw gathering, Bush said the terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks were seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and posing a threat ``to civilization itself.''

Asked about those comments later when he and Chirac faced reporters in the Rose Garden, Bush suggested he was not conveying new information but basing the statement on some of bin Laden's videotaped warnings to the West. ``I was using his own words,'' Bush said.

U.S. officials have said that bin Laden has sought to secure all forms of weapons of mass destruction. However, they believe bin Laden has access only to crude chemical and perhaps biological weapons. ``It's a source of concern and that is why the president raised it,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

In his remarks to the Eastern European leaders, Bush said the military action in Afghanistan has destroyed terrorist camps and weakened the Taliban's front lines. ``It may take a long time but no matter how long it takes,'' the terrorists and their allies ``will be brought to justice,'' Bush said.

He also praised America's response to anthrax attacks and said investigators will track down those responsible whether abroad or at home.

Bush plans to tour the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday afternoon, according to congressional sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He also is expected to give a nationally broadcast address to the nation Thursday evening.

By invoking the ghosts of communism in his speech to Eastern European leaders, Bush walked a fine line between stirring listeners to his cause and inflaming officials from countries, such as Russia and the former Soviet satellites, where communists still enjoy some support. Bush hopes to strike a deal later this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin, allowing U.S. missile defense tests.

Many of the nations represented at the conference have a powerful incentive to cooperate: They are seeking NATO admission. But administration officials said Bush was not promising to promote their membership in exchange for cooperation.
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