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Bin Laden Seeks to Gain Nuclear Arms, Bush Says

Threat: Terrorists also want chemical and germ weapons, president warns as he tries to rally support from abroad.


WASHINGTON — President Bush said Tuesday that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist network are trying to obtain nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and he urged other nations to adopt the war on terrorism as their own.

"This is an evil man that we're dealing with. And I wouldn't put it past him to develop evil weapons to try to harm civilization as we know it," Bush said.

As U.S. bombers attack Afghanistan in an effort to dislodge Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime, Bush administration officials are increasingly concerned that in some quarters overseas, the war is seen as solely an American affair.

Offering a preview of a speech he will give Saturday to the U.N. General Assembly, Bush pressed for specific contributions for the anti-terrorism effort.

"I will put every nation on notice that these duties involve more than sympathy or words," he said. "No nation can be neutral in this conflict, because no civilized nation can be secure in a world threatened by terror."

He said the United States is "at the beginning of our efforts in Afghanistan. And Afghanistan is the beginning of our efforts in the world."

By citing weapons of mass destruction, Bush emphasized the potential reach of terrorist organizations, demonstrating that other countries could also be at risk in what they may see as a fight with little meaning beyond the United States and Afghanistan.

Although administration officials have feared that the terrorist network is seeking weapons of mass destruction, Bush had not previously raised such a concern in public.

Bush presented it first in an address carried by satellite to an audience of Central and Eastern European leaders in Warsaw, the Polish capital, and then in answering reporters' questions with French President Jacques Chirac at his side in the White House Rose Garden.

Asserting that Al Qaeda cells operate in more than 60 nations, Bush said that "they are seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons."

"Given the means, our enemies would be a threat to every nation and, eventually, to civilization itself," the president told the European leaders. "We will not wait for the authors of mass murder to gain the weapons of mass destruction. We act now because we must lift this dark threat from our age and save generations to come."

The president's message about the potential reach of the terrorists contrasted with administration reports that the bombing campaign over Afghanistan is weakening the Taliban and thus the Al Qaeda network.

But it echoed warnings from international authorities and Bush aides about the direction the terrorists might consider taking.

And statements by Bin Laden in recent years have encouraged such fears. In one, an interview broadcast on Christmas Eve 1998, he said of chemical and nuclear weapons: "If I seek to acquire such weapons, this is a religious duty. How we use them is up to us."

Referring to such comments, Bush said, "We need to take him seriously."

The audience Bush addressed by videoconference brought together 14 presidents and prime ministers and other leaders from 17 countries that were largely part of the Soviet orbit until a decade ago.

Using the political history of a continent torn by Nazism and then communism, Bush said:

"Like the fascists and totalitarians before them, these terrorists--Al Qaeda, the Taliban regime that supports them and other terror groups across our world--try to impose their radical views through threats and violence. We see the same intolerance of dissent; the same mad, global ambitions; the same brutal determination to control every life and all of life."

Possession of Weapons Unclear, Official Says

Bin Laden's interest in obtaining nuclear, biological or chemical weapons has worried U.S. counter-terrorism authorities for years, a Bush administration official said. Multiple reports, all unproved, suggest that his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons or material have been unrelenting.

"It has become clear that these guys have been very interested in acquiring these kinds of capabilities," said the official, who asked not to be identified. "Whether they have or not is not clear."

In a federal court earlier this year, a former Bin Laden aide testified that he had tried to obtain weapon-grade uranium offered by a former Sudanese government minister.

He paid $1.5 million for a "heavy, shielded cylinder" purportedly containing enriched uranium and received a $10,000 cash bonus from Al Qaeda, he testified. But he said he didn't know whether the cylinder actually contained uranium--or whether it eventually made it to Al Qaeda.

In recent weeks, Russian media have reported that Bin Laden has bought several suitcase-size nuclear bombs from Russia that have not been used only because they are protected by Soviet codes requiring a signal from Moscow before they can be detonated.

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