Parade of visitors begins descending on Washington to extend sympathy, talk over situation

Tuesday, September 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A procession of foreign leaders, starting with the president of France and South Korea's foreign minister, are visiting Washington this week to extend sympathy for America's terrorist disaster and to compare notes on how the United States and the world should respond.

The Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo, president of the U.N. General Assembly, is first in line with a Tuesday morning meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell. French President Jacques Chirac was arriving in the afternoon for a meeting and dinner with President Bush.

Chirac is expected to emphasize his commitment to fighting terrorism during the discussions.

Last week's attacks, in which hijackers flew jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, elicited an outpouring of support and sympathy from the French.

Osama bin Laden, an accused international terror leader born in Saudi Arabia, is the prime suspect as the person who sent the 19 hijackers for what Bush has called acts of war against the United States that will be answered.

French Defense Minister Alain Richard said France was confident the United States would react responsibly once the perpetrators are identified, but he cautioned against using force alone to retaliate.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, leader of the world's most populous Muslim nation, left Jakarta on Monday for a Washington visit to begin Wednesday. Her government condemned the attacks and expressed condolences to the American people, but Vice President Hamzah Haz said the terrorist attacks could ``cleanse the sins of the United States.''

U.S. ambassador Robert Gelbard said he was dismayed by Haz's comments.

Also scheduled to visit after Tuesday are British Prime Minister Tony Blair, top officials of the European Union and the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, China and Italy.

Administration officials said they don't hold out much hope for a Pakistani effort to persuade Afghanistan's Taliban movement to surrender bin Laden.

Secretary of State Powell said Monday it is becoming increasingly clear that bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization are the prime suspects. Bin Laden has denied any responsibility for the attacks.

If the administration concludes bin Laden is guilty, it has made clear action will be taken against him, his organization and Afghanistan for harboring him. The administration has not specified what that might entail.

``We mean no ill toward the people'' of Afghanistan, Powell told a news conference. ``They are a suffering people. They are a poor people. And it's for that reason alone they should not allow these invaders to put their society at risk and to connect themselves to the government of Afghanistan.''

Powell has taken charge of a diplomatic drive to line up support for a wide range of actions, including political, economic and military measures.

``I am pleased that the coalition is coming together,'' he said. ``I think everybody recognizes that this challenge is one that went far beyond America, far beyond New York City and far beyond Washington.''

Powell gave his positive account after talking by telephone to President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, who he said was very helpful.

The Arab leader said Syrian President Bashar Assad, who was visiting Yemen, would join him in a statement condemning the terrorist attacks ``and committing themselves to work with us in the days and weeks ahead,'' Powell said.