CIA: Bin Laden tape likely authentic

WASHINGTON

The Central Intelligence Agency has determined that a new audiotape obtained earlier his week is likely an authentic recording of Osama bin Laden, a U.S. intelligence official said yesterday.

The audiotape exhorts Muslims to rise up against Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bahrain and Afghanistan, which it claims are “agents of America,” and calls for suicide attacks against U.S. and British interests to “avenge the innocent children” of Iraq.

CIA analysts, after listening to the audio, were fairly certain the voice was bin Laden’s, according to the intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The agency analyzed a brief excerpt from the tape after The Associated Press and other news organizations sought to authenticate whether the speaker was that of the terrorist leader.

There was also no clear indication of when the recording was made. It refers to the outbreak of war in Iraq, so officials suspect it was a recent recording. However, the references are so general that it is conceivable it was recorded before the war, the official said.

The 27-minute tape quotes extensively from the Muslim holy book, the Quran, and says jihad, or holy war in this context, is the “only solution to all the problems.”

The tape was obtained Monday by The Associated Press from an Algerian national, known as Aadil, who said he had slipped across the border from Afghanistan, where the tape was apparently recorded.

The message focused exclusively on suicide attacks, unlike many of bin Laden’s previous messages, which bore many themes.

“Do not be afraid of their tanks and armored personnel carriers. These are artificial things,” he said. “If you started suicide attacks you will see the fear of Americans all over the world. Those people who cannot join forces in jihad should give financial help to those mujahedeen who are fighting against U.S. aggression.”

“The United States has attacked Iraq and soon he will also attack Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan. The attacks in Saudi Arabia and Egypt will be against Islamic movements there,” the speaker says.

House OKs oil drilling in Alaska refuge

WASHINGTON

The House last night endorsed oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge, setting up a likely confrontation with the Senate as Congress struggles to produce a comprehensive energy policy.

An attempt to strip a House energy bill of a provision that would allow development of the refuge’s oil was turned back by a 228-197 vote. Drilling opponents argued more oil could be saved with higher auto fuel economy requirements than the refuge could produce.

Earlier, the House rejected a proposal to require a 5 percent reduction in fuel used by motor vehicles, including SUVs and pickup trucks, within seven years. Opponents to the measure said it would force automakers to make small cars.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), sponsor of the anti-drilling amendment, criticized the bill, saying if lawmakers are unwilling to improve auto fuel economy, “we have no right to jeopardize a pristine wilderness that should be preserved for the next generation,” he said.

But Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) said those who argue against developing the refuge’s oil don’t have the facts.

China criticized for moving SARS patient

HONG KONG

A new accusation against mainland China collapsed yesterday when the family of an American dying from a mysterious respiratory virus confirmed that they had requested he be moved from a mainland hospital to one in Hong Kong.

Officials from the mainland – already criticized for their secretive handling of the fast-spreading SARS virus – had been accused of moving the American to avoid another foreign death.

And Hong Kong’s health secretary said James Salisbury, a 52-year-old instructor from Utah, was already dead when he arrived in Hong Kong Wednesday. But Salisbury’s eldest daughter in Utah confirmed what Chinese health authorities had said all along.

“We heard the hospital in Hong Kong had specialists that were treating people with SARS and we thought there might be other things that could be done to help him get better,” said Michelle Salisbury of Orem, Utah.

She said Salisbury’s parents had ordered the change in hospitals and that they were taking advice from a doctor on staff with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in China. She said that doctor had spoken to the physicians at the hospital in Shenzhen, China, and in Hong Kong.

The family knew there was a chance the three-hour ambulance ride between hospitals was risky, she said, but it was a risk the family was willing to take. Ms. Salisbury said he died of a heart attack in route to Hong Kong.

“I know my father’s case was one of the most severe they’ve seen and that he was in the worst stages of it,” she said. “In China they have been able to make some people better, it just didn’t work for my father.”

She said the hospital in Hong Kong may have initially been reluctant to take him because the facility was already dealing with many other SARS patients.

Hong Kong’s health secretary, Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong, told reporters that Salisbury was dead on arrival. David Westbrook, a friend of Salisbury who drove behind the ambulance from the border city of Shenzhen to Hong Kong, said he showed no signs of life when he was put in the ambulance.

Westbrook said mainland doctors had given up hope of saving him and moved him so there would not be another death of a foreigner from SARS.

Health officials in Shenzhen said Salisbury was in a coma, not dead.

“We wanted to keep him in Shenzhen, but at the request of his family, we moved him to Hong Kong, where he died,” Zhong Nanshan, an epidemiologist at the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases in Guangdong’s capital, told reporters in Beijing.

Salisbury’s 6-year-old son, Mickey, is hospitalized in Hong Kong where he is under observation for SARS, a family member said. He is being looked after by church friends of the family.

The boy’s mother is making plans to travel here to bring him home when he is well enough, according to Michelle Salisbury.

The flu-like illness continues to spread in Hong Kong and the mainland. Officials yesterday took still more steps to try to control it, imposing strict 10-day quarantines for about 150 households of people recently infected.

The territory had previously quarantined some 240 people from a hard-hit apartment building, but some of them were released late Wednesday.

Worldwide, the disease, believed to be caused by a virus that causes the common cold, has claimed 111 lives. More than 2,700 people are infected with it. The United States reports 154 suspected cases, but no deaths.

Other Asian governments invoked new precautions yesterday to contain the virus, whose symptoms include fever, aches, dry cough and shortness of breath.

Malaysia started denying visas to most Hong Kong people. Taiwan said medical staff would check the temperatures of all passengers arriving at Taipei’s international airport and quarantine those with fever. Symptoms of SARS include fever, shortness of breath, coughing, chills and body aches.

Singapore announced a mandatory 10-day quarantine for guest workers arriving from affected countries, while keeping a closer eye on people under quarantine with cameras and wrist tags.

Southeast Asian finance ministers postponed a meeting in Manila planned for later this month because of SARS fears.

Thailand eased up a bit yesterday, saying tourists arriving from countries affected by SARS are no longer required to wear masks, as a World Health Organization official praised the country’s efforts to prevent the illness.

Mainland China and Hong Kong have reported the highest numbers of infections and deaths from the disease. Deaths also have been reported in Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.

A brief statement from China’s Health Ministry yesterday raised the SARS death toll by two.

North Korea defends need to build military

SEOUL, South Korea

North Korea said the Iraq war proved the need for it to maintain a strong military deterrent against the United States, as the communist nation’s withdrawal from the global nuclear arms control treaty officially took effect yesterday.

The North’s comments came a day after U.N. Security Council members said they were worried by North Korea’s standoff with Washington, but refused to condemn it for pulling out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. China and Russia had opposed condemning Pyongyang.

Drawing parallels with the U.S. showdown with Iraq, North Korea said that bowing to demands to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons development would lead to inspections and disarmament, setting the stage for a U.S. invasion.

“The Iraqi war launched by the U.S. pre-emptive attack clearly proves that a war can be prevented and the security of the country and the nation can be ensured only when one has physical deterrent force,” said KCNA, the North’s state-run news agency. It did not specifically refer to nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

The withdrawal from the nuclear arms control treaty officially took effect yesterday, three months after the North announced it was pulling out. In a similar standoff a decade ago, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the treaty but suspended its decision just before the 90-day notice period lapsed.

Pyongyang and Washington negotiated an energy deal that ended the earlier crisis, though a solution to the current standoff could be more difficult because U.S. officials have taken a harder line this time. They have refused North Korean appeals for direct talks, saying they will not give into blackmail and that other countries must be involved in any solution.

North Korea has said it would ignore any censure by the United Nations, and that economic sanctions would constitute a declaration of war.

“The U.N. Security Council discussion of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula itself is a prelude to war,” said North Korea’s Pyongyang Radio. North Korea has issued similar warnings in the past, and belligerence is a trademark of its statements.

The radio, monitored by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, called U.S. efforts to discuss the nuclear dispute at the council “a serious provocation, rupturing efforts for dialogue and spiking tension on the Korean Peninsula.”

North Korea has never said that it is developing nuclear weapons, though the United States says it already has one or two atomic bombs. Washington says it has no plans to invade North Korea and seeks a peaceful solution to the nuclear problem, but has not ruled out a military option

Washington wants the problem to be addressed in a multilateral forum including Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov held talks on the nuclear issue yesterday with South Korean officials in Seoul. Moscow was once a close ally of North Korea, though the friendship faded after the end of the Cold War.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Ivanov “shared our view that the two countries should closely cooperate to find a peaceful solution” to the crisis.

Ivanov said the two sides agreed the crisis should not be worsened by making “hostile and extreme expressions,” and he warned against driving North Korea “into a situation where a solution is impossible.” He did not elaborate.

“Solution of the North Korea problem presupposes that Pyongyang returns to all the international non-proliferation regimes and puts its sites under IAEA control, having received in return a guarantee of its security, sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as no attacks,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Ivanov as saying.

The IAEA is the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

The standoff flared in October when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it had a clandestine nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States.

Washington and its allies suspended fuel shipments promised under the 1994 deal, and Pyongyang retaliated by expelling U.N. monitors, taking steps to restart frozen facilities capable of making nuclear bombs and withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Reconciliation efforts between the two Koreas have suffered because of the nuclear standoff. Cabinet-level talks between the two sides did not take place as scheduled this week, and other joint projects have been postponed.

Yesterday, North Korea described the South Korean National Assembly as a “group of warmongers,” in part because of its decision to approve the dispatch of non-combat troops to support the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq.

Britain, Ireland stall N. Ireland peace plan

BELFAST, Northern Ireland

Dashing expectations of a breakthrough, Britain and Ireland withheld their new Northern Ireland peace plans yesterday after failing to get long-sought commitments from the Irish Republican Army, government aides said.

Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams, a reputed IRA chief, insisted the outlawed group was not responsible for the deadlock.

Yesterday, the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday accord, was the two governments’ target date for announcing the new plans.

The impasse, typical of the suspicion and recrimination that have dogged peacemaking efforts in this British territory for a decade, raised doubts about a planned May 29 election for the moribund Northern Ireland legislature. Britain already postponed the vote once.

Adams, whose party is linked with the IRA, demanded that Britain and Ireland “leave the IRA out” of current arguments and immediately publish the full text of their plans, which have been in the works since October and widely leaked.

They include guarantees of freedom for IRA fugitives, British military cutbacks, justice reforms and other moves designed to entice the IRA into resuming disarmament and abandoning all hostile activities. If the IRA made those commitments, Britain would seek to revive Northern Ireland’s mothballed Catholic-Protestant administration, the central achievement of the 1998 deal.

But the environment for a deal evaporated in morning telephone negotiations involving Adams and the British and Irish prime ministers, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern.

Blair and Ahern were about to fly to Hillsborough Castle near Belfast to unveil the document. Earlier this week at the castle, they joined President Bush in appealing for the IRA to fade away and Sinn Fein to accept the legitimacy of Northern Ireland’s police.

The prime ministers canceled yesterday’s event because the proposed text of an IRA statement – discussed Wednesday during face-to-face meetings in Belfast between Adams and Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell – was politically inadequate, a British government official said on condition of anonymity.

Ahern instead flew to London to discuss the impasse with Blair. After a 90-minute meeting, the two premiers agreed they could be in Hillsborough publishing their plans today – but only if Sinn Fein and the IRA put their cards on the negotiating table, too.

“We’ll be in contact with the parties overnight,” Blair said. “We’ve got to make sure that people understand the time is urgent, and I hope even at this late stage the difficulties can be ironed out and dealt with.”

Ahern said the impasse was “resolvable.”

“Hopefully we can move on,” he said. “If not, it won’t be our fault.”

The other three parties in Northern Ireland’s suspended administration said people already had a good idea of what Britain wanted to do but no clue about IRA intentions.

Adams’ moderate Catholic rival, Social Democratic and Labor Party leader Mark Durkan, said leaders of the Sinn Fein-IRA movement “cannot evade their share of the blame.”

Durkan chided Sinn Fein for continuing to boycott civilian boards overseeing the reform of Northern Ireland’s mostly Protestant police force, an issue fundamental to promoting stability for the territory’s 1.7 million people.

David Trimble, leader of the major Protestant party, the Ulster Unionists, accused Sinn Fein and IRA leaders of holding Northern Ireland hostage for ransom.

Trimble and Durkan were joint leaders of the crisis-prone coalition, which Britain shut down in October for the third time in three years.

Police that month uncovered evidence the IRA was using Sinn Fein’s access to power to gather intelligence on potential targets. Four people, including the senior Sinn Fein legislative aide, were charged with stealing documents of use to the IRA.

That was too much for the Ulster Unionists, who in 1999 agreed to share power with Sinn Fein on condition the IRA disarmed fully, as the Good Friday agreement envisaged.

Trimble said his party would return to the Cabinet table with Sinn Fein only if Irish republicans agree “to forswear violence, to wind up their paramilitary wing and to complete the process of disarmament.”

Blair, Ahern and Bush broadly endorsed Trimble’s position in a joint statement Tuesday.

Blair and Ahern also reportedly want to tie Sinn Fein’s right to hold office to the IRA’s future good behavior – an idea Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin called “a deal-breaker.”

The current system has required the entire administration to be mothballed whenever Ulster Unionist-Sinn Fein tensions flared over alleged IRA activities.

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