Bush, Spain's prime minister pledge cooperation on terror fight
Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush and Spain's prime minister on Wednesday pledged to keep cooperating in the war on terrorism but left unresolved the future of 14 al-Qaida suspects being held by Spain.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said his government would consider whether to extradite them to the United States only "if and when the United States requests that extradition."
Thus far, Anzar's government has expressed opposition to such an extradition partly because it opposes Bush's call for military tribunals.
Bush mentioned the suspects as he and Aznar took questions from reporters in the Rose Garden.
"Recently Spain has arrested al-Qaida members and has shared information about those al-Qaida members. And that is incredibly helpful," Bush said.
He said that Anzar "assured me he would cooperate in any way possible in our mutual desire to fight terror."
For his part, Aznar promised more cooperation and intelligence sharing with the United States and said that Spain would offer military forces if necessary
"The only fate that awaits terrorists is defeat," Aznar said.
Aznar said that Spain supports all U.S. "acts to track down and eliminate terrorism wherever it may be worldwide."
European nations, following policy written into the European Convention on Human Rights, routinely resist extradition for people facing the death penalty. The United States, in order to gain extradition, normally grants assurances that people won't be executed.
The Bush administration has not formally requested the extradition of the 14 al-Qaida suspects allegedly linked to Osama bin Laden. Several of those in custody are believed to have given the hijackers logistical support.
Earlier, after a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Bush said the international community has the resources to feed Afghanistan's starving population -- but that the nation's instability is making it difficult to deliver food and medicine.
"The fundamental question is, in an environment that is not very secure how do we get food to people?" Bush said during a picture-taking session Annan. "There is no question we have a large task ahead."
At the later session, Aznar suggested it was premature to talk about extradition of the al-Qaida suspects -- since the United States formally hadn't requested it.
"If and when the United States requests that extradition, we will study the issue," he said.
"Any action taken on the extradition issue will be taken with full respect of Spanish and United States law," he added. "We are also working on this issue at the European Union level, and we do hope to reach agreements on that issue in the very near future."
Earlier, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said he knew of no plans to ask Spain to extradite the suspects -- and would not say whether the United States would grant Spain or other countries assurances that suspects would not face either a military trial or capital punishment.
The prime minister's office said Aznar hopes to find a compromise in Washington that would allow extradition.
Bush was also asked about comments by Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta that the government likely won't meet the 60-day deadline to screen all baggage as required under the nation's new aviation security law.
"We're doing everything we can to meet the deadline, and we're doing everything we can to make sure the American people feel safe," Bush said.
Bush's separate meetings with the U.N. leader and the Spanish prime minister came as Afghan factions gathered in Germany for negotiations aimed at crafting a new multiethnic government to replace the Taliban.
"So far, they are off to a good start," Annan said. "The parties seem to want a broad-based government. I hope they will be able to settle the establishment of the government before they leave Bonn."
But even as Annan spoke, the anti-Taliban northern alliance rejected the U.N.'s proposal for a security force for Afghanistan after the Taliban.
Spain has offered the United States use of its air space and military bases in the aftermath of the attacks and the bombing campaign in Afghanistan. Defense Minister Frederico Trillo told Parliament Monday that he was committing 13 transport planes, including half the Spanish air force's Hercules C-130s, to take humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
------On the Net:
Bush's military tribunals order: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/11/20011113-27.html