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U.S. on bin Laden Tape: No Negotiations with Terrorists

By Deborah Zabarenko
Reuters
Jan 19, 2006

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research January 19, 2006 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON - The United States dismissed Thursday a conditional truce offered in a tape attributed to Osama bin Laden and said it "does not negotiate with terrorists."

Vice President Dick Cheney said the offer from the al Qaeda leader appeared to be a ploy but that it was too early to draw conclusions.

The audiotape, aired by Arab television station Al Jazeera, also warned al Qaeda was preparing new attacks inside the United States.

"Clearly the al Qaeda leaders and other terrorists are on the run, they're under a lot of pressure. We do not negotiate with terrorists, we put them out of business," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

"The terrorists started this war and the president made it clear that we will end it at a time and place of our choosing. We continue to pursue all those who seek to do harm to the American people," he said.

A CIA official said U.S. intelligence analysts believed the voice on the tape -- the first from bin Laden since 2004 -- belonged to the al Qaeda leader.

In it, bin Laden warned of new attacks inside the United States.

But he said al Qaeda was willing to "respond" to U.S. public opinion in favor of withdrawing troops from Iraq. Bin Laden did not specify conditions for the truce, but indicated that it was linked to U.S. troops quitting Iraq.

Asked about the truce offer, Cheney told Fox News in an interview: "I'm not sure what he's offering by way of a truce. I don't think anybody would believe him ... It sounds to me like it's some kind of a ploy, but again not having seen the entire text or validated the tape and the timing of it, I'm reluctant to draw any conclusions."

"This is not an organization that's ever going to sit down and sign a truce. I think you have to destroy them," he said.

Gauging the Threat

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich said the agency had no plans to raise the country's security alert level in response to the tape's release.

ABC News reported that Homeland Security officials were sending a bulletin to 18,000 police agencies telling them to review all of their intelligence.

"Who are the current suspects? Where are they operating? What do the cases tell us? What do the other sources of intelligence tell us? You take the sum of that and then you adjust and say where's our threat level here?" John Miller, a senior FBI spokesman, told ABC.

Roger Cressey, a former White House counterterrorism official under President Bush, called the truce offer a "red herring" designed to make bin Laden look reasonable in the eyes of U.S. and Muslim public opinion.

But he said the tape was significant after such a prolonged absence of messages from bin Laden, which had led to speculation he might be ill, injured or even dead.

"By issuing a tape which we have to assume is current, the bumper sticker here is: bin Laden's not irrelevant yet," Cressey said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said analysts typically checked such tapes for any threat indicators and clues that might help in the hunt for members of al Qaeda.

Cheney told Fox that in addition to authenticity, the key question was when the tape was made. Al Jazeera said the tape dated from January.

Cheney said U.S. officials did not yet know whether there was any link between the tape and an airstrike in Pakistan last week aimed at al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri.

Pakistani officials said Zawahri did not appear to be hit in the strike, which killed at least 18 people including women and children.

Additional reporting by David Morgan, Caroline Drees, and Paul Eckert)