Allies supportive but wary over U.S. response
By Joelle Diderich
Tuesday September 18, 3:27 AM
PARIS (Reuters) - Washington's key allies have continued to pledge support for its war on terror but many are cool on strikes against Afghanistan and fear an escalation on religious or regional lines.
The White House on Sunday promised retaliation by a "mighty giant" awakened by last week's kamikaze attacks by hijacked airliners in New York and Washington.
Tens of thousands of Afghans streamed from major cities towards borders with Pakistan and Iran on Monday, fearing massive U.S. strikes against the land that has harboured Washington's prime suspect, Osama bin Laden, and his followers.
But while allies across the world were quick to pledge support for the fight against terror in principle, many are reserving their right of judgment for the precise terms of action and want to see firm justifications for any move.
"We have to assemble the evidence, present it and then pursue those responsible," British Prime Minister Tony Blair told CNN on Sunday, balancing his remarks between support for U.S. President George Bush and calls in Britain for caution.
French President Jacques Chirac, who is due to travel with Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine to Washington and New York this week, has repeatedly pledged full solidarity.
However, Vedrine also sounded a cautious note on Sunday, saying it was important to avoid a "clash of civilisations" between the West and Islam in the wake of the attacks.
"I have good reason to hope that American leaders can come up with a strong and justified response to what has happened without falling into the diabolical trap conceived by the instigators of the assault," Vedrine said.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer have similarly called for a measured response.
"We need to react with a cool head. It is not about revenge," said Fischer, whose ecologist Greens Party suffered pangs of conscience over Germany's participation in Kosovo.
"In the end, we should not create more instability than was the case previously by our reactions," he said at the weekend.
In Italy, Defence Minister Antonio Martino said any military action should not be unilateral, but carried out by a coalition of countries under the aegis of the United Nations.
"If we must carry out a military action, it would be better if it were agreed to and shared by several countries and not only done by the U.S.," he told the daily Il Messaggero.
A senior official in NATO member Poland warned that an outright attack against bin Laden and his protectors, the Afghan Taliban regime, was almost certainly doomed to fail.
"If there are two lessons of the last two centuries, the first is -- thou shalt not march on Moscow, and the second -- thou shalt not march on Kabul," Deputy Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski wrote in the Rzeczpospolita daily.
"The Americans, after all, could not deploy sufficient forces to this remote region. A hundred thousand troops were not enough for the Soviets."
TALIBAN TROOPS AT THE READY
The Islamic fundamentalist Taliban warned at the weekend that it would attack any country that helped the United States against Afghanistan.
Army officials in neighbouring Pakistan, which has supported the Taliban, said they had deployed troops along the Afghan border where Taliban rulers have massed up to 25,000 fighters armed with Scud missiles.
Pakistan has said it would offer the U.S. full cooperation but any decision on specific help would be taken once Washington makes known precisely what action it has in mind.
The majority of Arab states have pledged their assistance in the war against terror but are deeply sensitive to any rhetoric dividing camps along religious lines.
"Washington should be fair. It should not harbour double standards," said Ahmad al-Jarallah, editor-in-chief of Kuwait's al-Seyassah newspaper and English-language daily Arab Times.
"Israel for instance has terrorism as do other countries. There is terrorism equally against Muslims and Christians."
America's Gulf Arab allies signalled they would support efforts to hunt down the perpetrators of last Tuesday's attacks -- provided they do not get dragged into a widespread war against countries and groups accused by Washington of terrorism.
Any such broad-based campaign would be controversial with Gulf Arab populations, sections of which see Islamic groups fighting Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as heroes.
"The more evidence ordinary people here see about who was behind the attacks, the more they will support efforts to capture them," said Kuwaiti political analyst Shamlan al-Essa.
SECURITY FEARS RISE IN ASIA
In Asia, worries about follow-up terror strikes against U.S. targets intensified amid a series of security scares.
China, which has pledged to join an international coalition against terrorism, sought to distance itself from the Taliban on Saturday, denying reports it had offered Kabul aid or sent Chinese officials there last year.
Southeast Asia urged the United States to investigate thoroughly before ordering retaliation, Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said on Monday.
But the Philippines, whose government has fought separatist rebels for 30 years, said this was no time for lukewarm responses.
"We cannot be fence-sitters nor should we be wishy-washy during this historic period," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told a government meeting on Monday, a spokesman said.
"If we have to pay a price for our conviction against terrorism, so be it."
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