Bush warns Taliban of 'consequences'
AP White House CorrespondentWASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush said Tuesday that Afghanistan's ruling Taliban will suffer certain consequences for the Sept. 11 attacks on America unless it meets his demands that it turn over Osama bin Laden and his followers. "There is no timetable ... there are no negotiations," he warned.
Bush also announced that Reagan National Airport, the only airport still closed because of the Sept. 11 attacks, will reopen Thursday under intense security. Flight patterns take planes close to the White House, Pentagon, Capitol and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Three weeks after suicide hijackings stunned the nation, Bush used the announcement to urge Americans not to shrink from the threat of terrorism. "There is no greater symbol that America is back in business than the reopening of this airport," Bush said. "Terror will not stand."
Bush's toughly worded warning to the Taliban, made at a White House meeting with congressional leaders of both parties, was matched on the other side of the Atlantic by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The Taliban must "surrender the terrorists or surrender power," Blair said in a speech to his Labor Party in Brighton, England. "This is a battle with only one outcome. Our victory, not theirs," Blair said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the administration "welcomes the prime minister's comments."
But he stopped short of warning, as Blair did, that the Taliban would "surrender power" if they did not heed Bush's demands.
"The president has said repeatedly that the United States will act decisively to protect the United States and our friends from all terrorist attacks," Fleischer said.
Bush also dispatched Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the Middle East for talks with political and military leaders in the region. Asked why Rumsfeld was sent, rather than Secretary of State Colin Powell, Fleischer would only say the president believed Rumsfeld was the "appropriate" official to go.
As Bush urged Americans to go about their business, western leaders were focusing increasingly on the Taliban, the militant Islamic organization that controls most of Afghanistan and which has harbored bin Laden.
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, the alliance's secretary general, Lord Robertson, said the United States presented "clear and compelling evidence" tying bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization to the terror attacks.
"It is clear that all roads lead to al-Qaida and pinpoint Osama bin Laden as having been involved in it," Robertson said Tuesday after a classified briefing given to NATO's ruling council by U.S. Ambassador at Large Francis X. Taylor.
In Washington, Bush met with congressional leaders to discuss legislation to spur the ailing U.S. economy. The meeting came hours before the nation's central bank, the Federal Reserve, was expected to reduce interest rates for the ninth time this year to prod the economy.
"I have said that the Taliban must turn over the al-Qaida organization living in Afghanistan and must destroy the terrorist camps. They must do so, otherwise there will be a consequence," Bush said. "There are no negotiations. There is no calendar."
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., emerged from the meeting with Bush carrying a message of his own for the Taliban: "I think the time's running short."
Three weeks after the deadly attacks on New York and Washington, Bush said America is still vulnerable.
"I say America needs to be on alert, but we've got to get back to business. Americans know their government is doing everything it can," Bush said during the Oval Office session. "We're on full alert in America."
The president announced that he would reopen Reagan National Airport, the only commercial airport still closed after the Sept. 11 attacks. Increased security will accompany the reopening.
Bush and the leaders discussed plans to revive the sagging U.S. economy. The president wants to cut taxes of individuals and businesses. He is open to Democratic demands to raise the minimum wage, increase job training and ensure health insurance and unemployment benefits to laid-off workers.
"There is agreement that we've got to come together with a vision about how big the package ought to be to make sure we affect the economy in the short run in a positive way, but don't affect it in the long run in a negative way," Bush said.
In a brief question-and-answer session, the president also said the idea of a Palestinian state has always been part of the peace process "so long as the right to an Israeli state if respected." He said some progress has been made toward peace in the Middle East.