NATO allies say terrorist attacks in U.S. can be attack on alliance

Thursday, September 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Building support in its battle against terrorism, the United States won key endorsements from NATO and the United Nations for punishing those responsible for the attacks against symbols of American financial and military power.

NATO's governing council declared Wednesday night that if the attacks were directed from abroad, they would be considered an attack against all 19 NATO member nations.

The unprecedented NATO decision was taken after the U.N. Security Council in New York unanimously condemned the terrorist attacks ``as a threat to international peace and security'' and vowed to combat terrorist acts ``by all means.''

Although the council resolution gave no explicit authority for an armed attack, international law provides for military intervention to combat threats to ``international peace and security.''

The decisions represented diplomatic victories for the United States as it tries to determine who was responsible for the biggest terrorist attacks in American history.

Suspicion has fallen on Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden, who lives in Afghanistan.

In taking its decision, the 19 NATO ambassadors agreed to allow Washington to invoke Article 5 of NATO's charter _ a first in the alliance's 52-year history.

Article 5, designed to respond to a Cold War offensive, declares an ``armed attack'' on any member to be an attack on all. That means the United States will be able to count on support from its 18 NATO partners for any potential military response.

``An attack on one is an attack on all,'' NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said, while emphasizing that no military action had yet been decided upon.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said invoking the solidarity principle would not necessarily mean using NATO forces against terrorists and their protectors.

Rather, Powell said, NATO allies could provide support such as overflight rights. NATO said that America's allies ``stand ready to provide the assistance that may be required as a consequence of these acts of barbarism.''

Following NATO's action, major European leaders underscored their personal support for the United States in face of the crisis.

``They were not only attacks on the people in the United States, our friends in America, but also against the entire civilized world, against our own freedom, against our own values, values which we share with the American people,'' German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in Berlin.

``We will not let these values be destroyed _ in Europe, America or anywhere in the world,'' Schroeder added. ``I am convinced that together we will weather this criminal challenge.''

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said that governments that encourage terrorism must be made to act responsibly.

``It is obvious that it is their responsibility to fight terrorism in their own territory, not to encourage terrorist ideas,'' Jospin said in a television interview. ``If not, they risk paying the consequences, and that is logical.''

On Thursday, the NATO alliance and Russia agreed to increase cooperation to fight international terrorism. After meeting at Alliance headquarters, a joint statement was issued saying they ``are united in their resolve not to let those responsible for such an inhuman act to go unpunished.''

In a separate show of allied solidarity, the European Union pledged Wednesday to help U.S. authorities track down and ``punish those responsible'' for Tuesday's attacks.

The EU foreign ministers, at a special meeting, asked ``all Europeans to observe three minutes of silence'' at noon Friday.

``There will be no safe haven for terrorists and their sponsors,'' the EU ministers said in a statement. ``The Union will work closely with the United States and all partners to combat international terrorism.''

Also Thursday, the head of the Rio Group, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, said its 19 Latin American member nations are ready to help the United States in the struggle against terrorism.

``Our intention is to show the United States that they are not alone,'' Lagos said during a visit to the European Union. ``This fight is something we all share.''