Sat Jan 25, 2003
Ashcroft, Malaysian PM trade barbs over terror
DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft appealed today to world governments and business leaders to co-operate in the war on terrorism, saying he believes that preventing attacks must become a global priority.
But Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad countered that his own country's experience proved the need to solve the political and social problems that foment terrorism at the same time as governments use pressure or military force to break terrorist organizations.
Ashcroft retorted that he didn't necessarily believe in addressing causes, noting that the Sept. 11, 2001 attackers were wealthy and educated.
"I'm not willing to say we have to downplay values we believe in to appease the terrorists," Ashcroft said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of more than 2,000 government, business and other leaders.
"The United States desperately needs — is greatly in need — of the help of freedom-loving people" around the world who support the rule of law "so we can piece together information of acts that are yet to occur," he said.
"Prevention must be a priority," Ashcroft said. "Moving toward a priority of prevention, I believe, will become a priority in the world."
Mahathir said the Sept. 11 attacks were unusual in that the attackers included "very well-off" rather than deprived people.
"They were incensed over something. We have to find out what moves them," he said.
He said Malaysia had a 42-year history of fighting terrorism that succeeded because it not only attacked terrorists but also tried to ``win the hearts and minds" of the people.
Malaysian authorities determined that many of those supporting terrorism were barred from citizenship and landownership, Mahathir said.
The government decided to change that and "one million citizens were created practically overnight," Mahathir said.
Mahathir also reiterated his opposition to a possible U.S. "false attack on Iraq," warning that it would "kill a lot of innocent people — a lot of people quite far removed."
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez, another panel participant, spoke of his country's long battle against rebels.
"If we do not stop terrorism in Colombia, terrorism through drugs will destroy the Amazon basin," he warned, saying that already much of the jungle has been destroyed for drug production.
Uribe said the insurrection was being maintained by rebels who cannot claim to be committing crimes for political reasons.
"This is sheer terrorism," he said, noting that there had been hostage-taking and beheading of innocent civilians.
"Terrorism is not a consequence of misery," Uribe said. "It is a cause."
The panel discussion kicked off the second day of the meeting.
At Thursday's kick-off, the escalating U.S. threats of an attack on Iraq were strongly criticized by presidents, pundits and CEOs who voiced fears of economic and political turmoil.
Ohio Republican Congressman Rob Portman, a last-minute replacement for Senator Orrin Hatch at Thursday's opening ceremony, conceded that America needs "to communicate much better" about terrorist threats and its vision "for a free and prosperous world."
"We're here to hear more and to get more dialogue," Portman said, appearing uncomfortable at the unexpected spotlight.
Mahathir was in his element at the opening session, getting a resounding reception from more than 800 invited VIPs when he criticized U.S. President George W. Bush for targeting Iraq.
The six-day meeting followed a clash between the United States and allies France and Germany who have angered Washington with an increasingly outspoken campaign against any quick military action against Iraq.