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US Sharpens Criticism of al-Jazeera TV Network - 2004-04-27

The United States is sharpening its criticism of the Qatar-based Arabic TV network al-Jazeera, accusing the station of inflammatory and false reporting that has made the situation in Iraq "more dangerous." Secretary of State Colin Powell took up the issue Tuesday with Qatar's foreign minister, Sheik Hamad Bin Jassim al-Thani.

The Bush administration has long been critical of al-Jazeera, for among other things broadcasting unedited tapes of Osama bin Laden and other terrorist figures urging attacks on U.S. interests.

But it is now pressing the station's host country, Qatar, to take unspecified actions to address U.S. concerns about what officials here say is a pattern of inflammatory and false reporting of American military operations in Iraq.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters that al-Jazeera's reporting is among difficult issues that "intrude" on the otherwise-close U.S.-Qatari relationship. He said it was a matter of "intense discussions" at Tuesday's first session of a U.S.-Qatar "strategic dialogue" led by Mr. Powell and the Qatari foreign minister.

Mr. Powell did not elaborate on U.S. concerns. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. officials in Baghdad have documented "case after case" of false, tendentious and inflammatory reports by the broadcaster about U.S. military operations.

"It's not a question for us of freedom of the press and free speech. We obviously support those values around the world, and especially in the Arab world," he said. "We have very deep concerns about al-Jazeera's broadcasts, because again and again we find inaccurate, false, wrong, reports that we think are designed to be inflammatory that appear on this network, and that make life, make the situation, more tense, more inflamed and even more dangerous for Americans, for Iraqis, for Arabs and other people who are involved, particularly in Iraq."

Pressed for specific examples, Mr. Boucher cited two April 9 reports by al-Jazeera that he said were "totally wrong": that U.S. forces had used cluster bombs in Fallujah and Najaf and that children were being "cut to pieces" by American gunfire in Falujah.

The spokesman did not specify what the United States expected Qatari authorities to do about the situation, but he said they have a "role of responsibility" for the broadcaster and understand U.S. concerns.

The Qatari royal family, of which Foreign Minister Al-Thani is a member, is a principal investor in the TV station. In the past, Qatari officials have brushed aside U.S. criticism, citing a desire to promote free expression.

Al-Jazeera and another all-news Arabic network, al-Arabiya, which has also been the subject of some U.S. criticism, have attracted large audiences with their graphic coverage of fighting in Iraq.

Recognizing the reach of the stations, administration officials including Secretary Powell have made themselves available to be interviewed by them to convey the U.S. viewpoint.