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Powell Asks Pakistan for Help In Finding Fugitive bin Laden

By Steven Mufson and Alan Sipress

Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday pointed to wealthy Saudi exile Osama bin Laden as a prime suspect in the attacks on Tuesday by airplane hijackers and later spoke by telephone with Pakistan’s leader to insist on his help in hunting down the fugitive militant and uprooting his network.

“We are looking at those terrorist organizations that have the kind of capacity that would have been necessary to conduct the attack that we saw,” Powell said. “We haven’t yet publicly identified the organization we believe was responsible. But when you look at the list of candidates, one resides in that region.” When asked by a reporter, Powell confirmed he meant bin Laden.

Powell said that as soon as the United States is certain of the identity of the culprits in the hijackings, “We will go after that group, that network and those that have harbored, supported and aided that network, to rip that network up.”

He added, “When we are through with that network, we will continue with a global assault against terrorism in general.”

The focus on bin Laden and his bases in Afghanistan has driven much of the Bush administration’s diplomatic efforts to rally support for possible military strikes in retaliation for Tuesday’s attacks.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, meeting with senior Pakistani officials for the second day, made several demands, including that Pakistan close its border with Afghanistan, cut off fuel supplies to the Taliban and grant overflight rights to U.S. military aircraft, administration officials said. The United States is also looking for intelligence cooperation.

Though the Bush administration has expressed grave concern about the safe haven provided to bin Laden by the Taliban movement ruling most of Afghanistan, U.S. officials said they were unaware of any official American discussions with the Taliban about terrorism since the attacks on Tuesday.

“We have ways of talking to them and we’re exploring those ways now,” Powell said. State Department officials said the administration could contact the Taliban through their representatives in Islamabad, New York or a few other foreign cities. The United States does not recognize the Taliban and does not have diplomatic relations with them.

But an aggressive diplomatic campaign has also won the United States support from a range of international organizations, including a resolution of support adopted 56-1 by the U.N. General Assembly. The U.N. Security Council has also signaled its readiness to take steps in response to the attacks.

Despite efforts to build an international coalition, Powell said the administration would not let this tie its hands as it sought to pursue terrorists and states that support them. “We will not do it in such a way that if the United States feels a need to act alone by itself, we will not be constrained by the fact that we’re working with others as well,” he said.

The ultimate goal is to build international momentum for a sustained confrontation with terrorist groups and governments that provide them support and haven. “What we don’t want to do is to have a quick burst, while everybody is focused on what happened, and then lose sight of the fact it’s going to take some time to root out terrorism,” the senior administration official said.