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US Will Not Negotiate With Hostage-Takers - 2004-04-18

President Bush's national security advisor says the United States will not negotiate with hostage-takers holding Americans in Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice says the Bush administration will do all it can to obtain the release of the hostages. But she makes clear there will be no negotiations with their captors. "The president of the United States does not negotiate with terrorists," she said.

During a series of interviews on American television, Ms. Rice was asked if the White House would consider a prisoner swap. She told ABC's This Week that the hostage-taking must be seen in a broader context.

"This is an attack by regime loyalists and some foreign terrorists on a process that is underway in Iraq," said Ms. Rice. "They want to intimidate us, they want to intimidate our allies. They want to intimidate the Iraqis."

Ms. Rice's appearances on three television news programs came as another new book on the Bush administration's Iraq policy was released. This one was written by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, best known for his coverage of the Watergate scandals of the 1970s that led to the resignation of former President Richard Nixon.

Mr. Woodward's new book focuses on the lead-up to war in Iraq, and states that war planning began just months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Condoleezza Rice told the Fox News Sunday program that military options were discussed that November. "By the end of November, things were starting to wind down in Afghanistan and I do think the president's mind was beginning to move to what else he would have to do to deal with the blow, the threat that had emerged as a result of 9/11," said Ms. Rice.

She said the most hostile relationship the United States had at the time in the Middle East was with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. She said the president wanted to look at all possible courses of action before going to the United Nations.

Mr. Bush's handling of the terrorist threat and the war in Iraq has become a crucial issue in the U.S. presidential election campaign. While Condoleezza Rice was defending the administration's record, the likely Democrat Party nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, was leveling more criticism.

He told NBC's Meet the Press that the president has failed to reach out to other countries, and acknowledged they are now reluctant to help.

"That is the dilemma. That is exactly the quandary that President Bush and this administration have put the United States of America in," he said.

Senator Kerry said the administration's diplomacy has been stunningly ineffective, and said if he is elected he will pursue a more multi-lateral approach.