Bush Rebuffs Taliban Offer As Nonnegotiable, Administration Says Anthrax Cases `Act of Terrorism'

Monday, October 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. warplanes bombarding suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan on Monday reinforced President Bush's declaration that ``there's no negotiations'' over Osama bin Laden. At home, health officials sought to reassure Americans shaken by recent anthrax cases.

Bush strongly rebuffed a Taliban offer to turn over bin Laden to a third country if the bombing stopped. ``We know he's guilty. Turn him over,'' the president demanded Sunday as the U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan entered their second week.

During a series of daylight raids Monday, U.S. jets struck at targets near Kabul, at a bin Laden training camp at Tora-Bora, and near the village of Karam.

In New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said a police officer and two lab technicians were being treated with antibiotics for exposure to anthrax, boosting the total count to 12 in three states.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson regarded the sending of anthrax through the mail as an act of terrorism, though officials said they had no evidence to link anthrax outbreaks in Florida and New York to the Islamic terrorists responsible for attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Thompson said officials also were investigating the possibility that anthrax was being spread by someone with a grudge or in ``a copycat kind of situation.''

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer backed off Thompson's remarks Monday, saying the Justice Department had not determined whether the cases were a result of terrorism or criminal activity.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, a member of the HHS Bioterrorism Advisory Council, said anthrax spores sent through the mail do not pose a great threat. ``Now that we know that these letters are arriving, they can be handled in such a way that no one should become ill,'' he said on CBS' ``The Early Show.''

Osterholm, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Minnesota, said a greater threat would be smallpox or anthrax released into the air. ``That's what we're getting prepared for,'' he said. ``Let's not be distracted by this other issue.''

The administration will ask Congress this week to allocate more than $1.5 billion for steps to help combat bioterrorism, Thompson said. Some of the money would be used to purchase enough antibiotics to treat 12 million people for 60 days, six times the current supply.

Bush, meanwhile, set meetings Monday with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and with federal officials in the Senior Executive Service to praise the virtues of public service and salute their work during the crisis.

Later, the president was visiting nearby Fort Myer, Va., to officially welcome his new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers.

Members of Bush's Cabinet mobilized at home and abroad and one U.S. military official said the bombing in Afghanistan had entered a ``cleanup mode.''

Attorney General John Ashcroft said investigators were looking for about 190 people they want to question about possible knowledge of terrorism.

On the diplomatic front, Secretary of State Colin Powell left Sunday for a high-priority diplomatic mission to Pakistan and India aimed at keeping tensions between those two countries from further complicating the military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

Returning to the White House after a weekend at the Camp David retreat, Bush dismissed the latest offer over bin Laden from the Taliban regime. A Taliban leader suggested the Afghan government would be willing to discuss surrendering bin Laden to a third country if the United States provided evidence of his guilt and stopped bombing.

``They must have not heard. There's no negotiations,'' the president declared. ``All they got to do is turn him (bin Laden) over, and his colleagues and the thugs he hides, as well as destroy his camps and (release) the innocent people being held hostage in Afghanistan.''

The latter was an apparent reference to eight foreign aid workers imprisoned in Afghanistan.

On Sunday, U.S.-led air strikes bombed communications systems in the Afghan capital of Kabul, and more of the ruling Taliban's military assets.

The captain of the aircraft carrier Enterprise said operations were now in a ``cleanup mode'' after warplanes destroyed nearly all of the targets assigned to them. His identify could not be disclosed under military rules for covering the operation.

Ashcroft said investigators were still looking into the potential that anthrax cases were linked to the terrorists. ``It is premature at this time to decide whether there is a direct link,'' he told NBC's ``Meet the Press.''

The attorney general also asked Americans to remain vigilant for signs of another attack as ``a preparedness, not a paralysis, not a panic.''

HHS Secretary Thompson said the government had thousands of medical professionals on alert and tons of medical supplies ready to respond to bioterrorism.

Specifically, he said, there are more than 2 million doses of medication to treat 2 million people for 60 days for exposure to anthrax.

Meantime, the USS Theodore Roosevelt was getting into position in the waters off South Asia Monday, bringing to four the number of aircraft carriers involved in the anti-terrorism campaign. The Navy said it had not decided whether to keep all four in the region.

Since Oct. 7, F-14 and F/A-18 warplanes from the USS Enterprise and USS Vinson have run hundreds of bombing raids over Afghanistan.

The USS Kitty Hawk is the fourth carrier in the region. The Pentagon said last week that it was in the Indian Ocean but has been extremely secretive about its mission. It left its home base in Japan without its usual number of airplanes aboard, allowing it to be used as a floating base for special forces operations.