President Bush said "it may take a year or two" to track down Osama bin Laden and his terrorist al Qaida network in Afghanistan, but asserted that after a five-day aerial bombardment, "We've got them on the run."
In a prime-time news conference held Thursday at the White House, Mr. Bush said he did not know whether bin Laden was dead or alive. "I want him brought to justice," he said of the shadowy figure believed behind the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that killed 5,000 people one month ago.
The president said that an FBI warning issued earlier in the day was the result of a "general threat" of possible future terrorist acts the government had received. "I hope it's the last, but given the attitude of the evildoers it may not be," he added.
At the same time, he sought to reassure Americans the government was doing all it could to make them safe. "If we receive specific intelligence that targets a specific building or city or facility I can assure you our government will do everything possible to protect the citizens," he said.
Mr. Bush urged Americans not to live in fear, because that's what the terrorists want.
After five days of sustained U.S. bombing, the president insisted that Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for bin Laden.
Despite the aerial pounding, Bush held out a carrot to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan. "You still have a second chance. Just bring him in and bring his leaders and lieutenants and other thugs and criminals with him."
And yet the president looked ahead to a day when the Taliban would be pushed from power. He suggested the United Nations could help form a new government for Afghanistan after the U.S.-led military mission is completed.
Asked whether he envisioned expanding military action beyond Afghanistan to Iraq or Syria, Bush said that the United States would "bring to justice" nations that harbor terrorists. In particular, he called Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein an "evil man" and added, "we're watching him very carefully."
While the current focus is on Afghanistan, he said "we're looking for al Qaida cells around the world" and if the United States find any, it will pursue them.
Bush spoke at the first prime-time news conference of his presidency, but more importantly, one month to the day after terrorist attacks in New York and Washington murdered thousands, damaged the nation's economy and shattered its complacency.
In the month since, the president has labored to construct a foundation for an international war on terrorism, moving to choke off the funding essential for terrorists to carry out their strikes, lining up support from other nations, creating a new Office of Homeland Security and beginning last Sunday unleashing the nation's military.
The news conference capped a national day of remembrance. There were memorial services around the nation to remember the more than 5,000 people killed when suicide hijackers seized four commercia airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside.
At the news conference, Bush also said that Syria, a nation often linked with terrorist groups, had expressed a desire to help with the anti-terror coalition. "We'll give them an opportunity to do so." He did not give specifics on the type of assistance Syria offered, but said he takes it seriously.
"If you want to join the coalition against terror, we will welcome you," Bush said.
Asked whether he was calling for sacrifice from Americans as part of the war against terrorism, Bush said, "I think there's a certain sacrifice when you lose a piece of your soul." He said he had seen tears in the eyes of some of the people attending a ceremony of remembrance earlier in the day at the Pentagon.
President Bush also gave his strongest support to date for the creation of a Palestinian state if it left Israel in peace.
Bush said at the news conference his backing depended on the start of a peace process based on a plan outlined by former Sen. George Mitchell that calls for a cease-fire and confidence-building measures leading up to peace talks.
Bush said that he hoped Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was making an effort to reduce violence in the Middle East that has killed at least 624 Palestinians and 125 Israelis in the last year and declined to say if he would meet the Palestinian leader.
"If I am convinced that a meeting with a particular party at this point in time will further the process, I will do so. If it turns out to be an empty photo opportunity that creates expectations that will become dashed, I won't meet," he said.
"I hope progress is being made. I was pleased to see that Mr. Arafat is trying to control the radical elements within the Palestinian Authority. I think the world ought to applaud him for that," the president said.
Bush said that despite Russia's cooperation in the war on terrorism, he had not changed his mind about abandoning the Cold War-era Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and proceeding with a U.S. missile defense system. He said the 1972 ABM treaty "is outdated, antiquated and useless," and said it makes sense to permit development of an alternative system that could thwart terrorist attempts to launch missile strikes.
"I am more than anxious to continue making my case" to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.
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