Accessibility links

Arab Foreign Ministers Discuss Terrorism Campaign - 2001-10-01

The United States is embarking on a battle against a kind of Islamist terrorism that a number of Middle East governments have been contending with for years. The Arab foreign ministers who have come to Washington are offering various degrees of cooperation with a U.S. led anti-terrorism coalition, while mindful that any support for an American move against an Islamic government like Afghanistan could fuel extremism in their own countries.

The Bush administration says Arab governments are responding with offers of support for its declared war against terrorism.

In public, most of the Arab government representatives coming to Washington are responding cautiously to the U.S. call to join the international coalition that could lead to military action against the Islamic government in Afghanistan for harboring accused terrorist Osama bin Laden. But none has publicly offered to contribute troops - as many did during the Gulf War a decade ago.

Leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are all contending with Islamist movements in their own countries opposed to ties to the United States and its support for Israel. That may be why the Arab emissaries who have been shuttling between the State Department and the White House want a firm case to be made against those responsible for this month's terrorist attacks before any military action is considered.

Although not part of the Arab world, NATO ally Turkey, a Muslim country, is latest to show solidarity with the United States. Foreign Minister Ismail Cem has agreed to allow U.S. military flights over Turkish airspace, but emphasized the world should not consider any military action against Afghanistan as an attack against Islam. Mr. Cem said, "Terrorists [do] not have a religion. This is complete nonsense to call one or another terrorist organizations, referring to Muslims, or to Islamic terrorism or to Jewish terrorism or to Christian terrorists."

Even Egypt, one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid and one of America's closest Arab allies, is cautioning against any precipitous action that could put civilians at risk. Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said, "We believe that the United States, as the government of a country that believes in law and justice, will act on the basis of a good case and I'm sure they have a good case against the culprits who committed this horrible crime."

Speaking through a translator, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal told reporters at the White House last week any U.S. action that goes beyond bringing the alleged terrorists to justice will only further complicate relations with the Islamic world. "This fight against terrorism," he said, "should be guided by the principle of bringing the perpetrators, identifying them and bringing them to justice. And that it should in no way follow the objectives of the terrorists themselves in creating an unbridgeable gap between the Western world and the Islamic world."

At every turn, the Bush administration has been going out of its way to make sure the Islamic world does not see the battle against terrorism and maybe the Afghan government - as a war against the Islamic faith. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said, "This is about freedom, not culture. It's about working with Islamic governments who want to move forward into the modern world."

And the administration says, it's about enlisting Islamic governments in going after any terrorist organization with global reach.