The United States says it still opposes Israel's policy of targeting Palestinian militants for assassination even though the CIA apparently used the same tactic in killing a senior al-Qaida operative and five others in Yemen Sunday.
Administration spokesmen have not admitted, for the record, that the United States was behind the rocket attack that shredded a car carrying a top al-Qaida figure and five associates on remote highway in northwestern Yemen.
But they are making no effort to deny news reports quoting U.S. officials at that a missile fired from a CIA drone aircraft caused the explosion that killed Qaed Senyan al-Harethi, an al-Qaida operative who had been linked to the lethal attack on the U.S. Navy destroyer the USS Cole two years ago.
At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher was pelted with questions about how the killing in Yemen can be squared with the United States' long-standing opposition to targeted killings by Israel. He replied the Bush administration does not equate the two, and that the circumstances differ.
"I'm not drawing a distinction between anything and anything else," he said. "I'm just saying that if you look carefully, if you look at what we have said about targeting killings in the question of the Israeli-Palestinian disputes, you will see first of all, as I've said today, that our position has not changed. And second of all, that the factors that we cited for our opposition to targeted killings were particular to that set of circumstances."
The United States has argued in the past that the targeted killings, defended by Israel as pre-emptive self-defense, contribute to a cycle of violence and undermine prospects for regional peace talks.
Earlier, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, while declining comment on whether President Bush had authorized the Yemen attack, said the U.S.-led war on terrorism is "a different kind of war with a different kind of battlefield."
Mr. Fleischer said the president is waging that war on political, diplomatic and military fronts and that "sometimes the best course is a good offense."
There has been some international criticism of the Yemen attack. Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said suspected terrorists should be accorded due process of law, and that, if the United States was behind the incident with Yemen's consent, it was a "summary execution" that violates human rights.
State Department officials say that in the aftermath of the attack, security at the U.S. embassy in the Yemeni capital Sanaa had been stepped-up, though the mission remained open Tuesday.