Thursday, October 4 6:48 AM SGT
Frustrated Powell insists US not anti-Arab, says not looking for conflict
WASHINGTON, Oct 3 (AFP) -
A frustrated Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted Wednesday that the US-led anti-terrorism campaign was not directed at Islam despite persistent reports in the Arab and Muslim world to the contrary.
At the same time, however, he would not say the campaign, aimed first at Afghanistan-based Osama bin Laden, would stop after bringing the exiled Saudi militant to justice and dismantling his al-Qaeda network.
"We are focusing on al-Qaeda and focusing on Afghanistan and that is the first phase of this operation, and I obviously cannot comment on what might happen in the future," Powell told reporters.
"We are not seeing this as anti-Arab, anti-Islam," he said after meeting Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. "It's anti-terrorism ... We are not looking for conflict with other nations."
In Riyadh and Cairo, Saudi and Egyptian officials said late Wednesday they were "sure" after discussions with visiting US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Washington would not strike at Arab countries in retaliation for the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
But US officials including Powell have refused thus far to publicly rule out any option and Tuesday denied a report that Jordan's King Abdullah II had gotten assurances during a recent trip to Washington that all Arab nations were safe from potential strikes.
After that denial, which appeared to rule in the possibility of an attack on Iraq, the Arab League warned that any strike on an Arab country would harm the coalition.
Faced with repeated questions about the US position, Powell grew defensive by late Wednesday, telling a small group of reporters at the State Department that "the United States is not anti-Arab as a government or as a nation."
"It wasn't anti-Arab of us to free Kuwait ten years ago at great expense and putting our young men and women at risk. It wasn't anti-Muslim when we went in to feed the people of Somalia," he said.
"I think our record of cooperating with Arab nations and putting the lives of young men and women on the line to presere Arab dignity and the integrity of Arab countries is well-known."
On Arab anger at US support for Israel and Washington's perceived lack of engagement to protect the Palestinians, he allowed that the situation was difficult but denied the charges.
"We try to do the best we can with the Middle East peace process," Powell said. "We struggle with it, the previous admininstration worked very, very hard trying to get a solution and I can assure you this administration has worked very hard to try to find a solution.
"The fact that Israel is a strategic partner of ours and we support Israel and we will do everything to make sure Israel can live in peace and security, should not be seen, although I'm afraid it is often seen, as being anti-Arab."
Another complaint from the Arab world has been the effect of UN sanctions championed by the United States on the people of Iraq.
Powell denied any US responsibility for the suffering of the Iraqi people noting that he had been trying unsuccessfully since January to modify the sanctions to allow more humanitarian aid into the country.
"The one who has been stopping me is Iraq," he said. "They don't want it changed because they want to keep blaming us for something that is their fault.
"They would rather pretend that we are punishing their people while they continue to work on weapons of mass destruction that in the first instance will be targeted against their Arab neighbors in that region and not against the United States," Powell said.
"The United States is standing firm against that we will not allow the other nations in the region to be put at risk by this dictatorial, corrupt regime."