Bush confers with Putin, seeks to boost confidence in economy
It was the last day that Americans flew their flags at half-staff. Bush planned to raise the flag high at Camp David on Sunday, symbolically ending a period of national mourning that no ceremony could hope to set aside.
More pieces fell into place for the war planning and coalition building, with America’s Middle East allies stepping up in measured ways to support the gathering operation to uproot Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network. The United Arab Emirates cut ties with the Taliban, and NATO-ally Turkey said it would let American warplanes use its air space and airports.
But Bush also had to contend with fears that pieces of the U.S. economy are coming apart from the shock waves of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Emphasizing the bright side, he declared in his radio address that the economy is strong at its core. ”They brought down a symbol of American prosperity,” Bush said of the terrorists, ”but they could not touch its source.”
Congress voted $15 billion for the horsewhipped airline industry late Friday. Many analysts predict the country will not escape recession.
Still, said Bush, ”No terrorist will ever be able to decide our fate.”
The sports-starved public took advantage of the first full menu of weekend baseball and football since the attacks. But it was not quite the same – authorities banned all aircraft from flying within 3 miles of major sporting events and spectators were barred from taking backpacks or containers to the games.
In New York, the air traffic control tower and a terminal at Kennedy International Airport were evacuated Saturday afternoon because of a bomb scare, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Some departures were halted but incoming flights were permitted to land; a backup tower was set up until operations could be brought back to normal.
Investigators pressed their international sweep for suspects wanted in the devastating hijackings that left the World Trade Center in ruins, one side of the Pentagon smashed, another airliner down in Pennsylvania and more than 6,000 people dead or missing.
As of Saturday, The Associated Press listed 611 people who were killed in the attacks, based on information from family members, friends, co-workers or government officials. The number included people on aircraft, at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon.
An investigator familiar with the probe, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one of the four people arrested in Britain on Friday was a pilot who took flying lessons in Arizona with one of the alleged hijackers on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
One of the four, identified by the source as the pilot’s brother, was released Saturday. The source said the four were taken in at the FBI’s request and were not being cooperative.
The Justice Department said federal investigators found box-cutter knives – like those used by the hijackers – after searches of some planes on the ground after the hijackings. A federal official said the security sweep discovered box cutters in two airplanes, but the official did not know where.
On the diplomatic front, Bush and Putin spoke for an hour by phone, their third talk since the attacks, and the Russian leader said later, ”We must unite forces of all civilized society.” Still, he was not specific in his public comments about Russia’s course in joining the ”battle with terror.” The White House called the talk constructive.
U.S. officials would not comment on a claim by a Taliban official that an unmanned spy plane was shot down over northern Afghanistan, where heavy fighting was reported Saturday between the Taliban militia and opposition forces. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Mike Milord, said ”we will not discuss any operational issues.”
Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said the plane came down in the northern Samangan province. ”We are still trying to ascertain what country this plane belongs to,” Zaeef said. The most common unmanned reconnaissance plane is the Predator, a 27-foot-long aircraft that can fly for 40 hours under remote control.
Bush planned to sign an executive order identifying terrorist organizations and specific terrorists around the world and aiming to freeze their U.S. assets.
In a morning meeting, Bush and a select trio of aides sat alone at a huge conference table at Camp David, speaking in a teleconference with teams of advisers back in Washington. Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser; Andy Card, his chief of staff; and CIA Director George Tenet were with him.
It was part of Bush’s daily choreography of war planning, diplomacy and economic confidence-building, all the while keeping track of the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history.
-The UAE cut relations with Afghanistan’s Taliban government and a Saudi official said his kingdom was considering doing the same. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are the only other countries that recognize the hardline Taliban as Afghanistan’s government.
-Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told Bush in a letter that he has agreed to allow U.S. Air Force transport aircraft to use Turkish air space and airports. Turkey, a member of NATO and a country with an overwhelmingly Muslim population, has also offered to share intelligence.
-Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Wald, commander of U.S. Central Command’s air component, has shifted operations from South Carolina to Saudi Arabia, where he could plan and direct air attacks against Afghanistan and other possible targets in the region. B-52 bombers thundered away from Louisiana en route to the region.
-The USS Kitty Hawk, the only U.S. aircraft carrier stationed in the western Pacific, left port in Japan on Friday for an undisclosed location. Two carriers are already in the Persian Gulf or Indian Ocean, and a third, the Theodore Roosevelt, left Norfolk, Va., during the week for the Mediterranean Sea and possibly points east.
-Members of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban alliance traveled to Italy to meet Afghanistan’s former king, who has been mentioned as a possible successor if the Taliban are ousted by the United States.
The United States has ”a command and control center with Saudi Arabia,” a senior U.S. official said Saturday. ”It’s up and running and it’s operational.” More than 100 combat and support aircraft were sent to the Gulf area earlier in the week.
”We appreciate all the support we are enjoying in the region and around the world,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan G. Whitman said.