Wed, May 07, 2003 - Page 6 News List

G8 remains on the trail of terrorists, but tensions remain

WAR ON TERRORISM France says it has always cooperated with the US in its struggle, but it was clear that Paris is wary of Washington's true intent

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , PARIS

Despite lingering political differences, the justice and interior ministers of the world's leading industrialized countries appeared to reach unanimity on Monday on the persistence of the terrorist threat, even if their governments differ at times on the means to counter it.

After a one-day meeting in Paris, the ministers from the G8 countries declared that "terrorism continues to present both a pervasive and global threat to our societies that we have to respond to effectively and immediately."

The meeting was called to prepare for the G8 summit meeting to be held in June in the French town of Evian, and which US President George W. Bush plans to attend. US Attorney General John Ashcroft joined the meeting on Monday, but did not participate in a news conference following the session.

In a statement released at the conclusion of the discussions, the ministers said they had "evaluated the terrorist threat in light of the international situation and the latest developments in the fight against al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations."

Without mentioning specifically the war in Iraq, the ministers said that "the threat from al-Qaeda remains serious."

The ministers warned that "In spite of the elimination of most of its bases in Afghanistan, it seems that other camps have been reactivated in other areas in the zone." They did not elaborate, but went on to say that al-Qaeda's capabilities had been shaken by recent arrests, though they said that "dormant individuals and cells are always ready to act."

But the ministers were short on details.

British Home Secretary David Blunkett, said that the successful outcome of the war in Iraq and the ouster of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had "removed one threat in relation to Iraq, a rogue state," and "obviously damaged the morale of those who were able to draw on the tacit support of the regime."

Yet he shared the view of his counterparts that the terrorist threat remained, said in an interview that "the network out there remains a problem."

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said the ministers agreed to reinforce their cooperation in the fight against terrorism and to augment a reciprocal exchange of information.

"We have the same interests," he said, at a news conference attended by several of the ministers. "They consist first of all in acting over the long term against terrorist networks."

Sarkozy said the ministers agreed that the "terrorist threat is real, that it is always present, that it is unfortunately present for the long term, and that none of us has chosen to let down his guard."

But there remained points of friction. Monday evening, French Justice Minister Dominique Perben, was scheduled to meet with Ashcroft. Perben told reporters he would raise the thorny issue of six French nationals who have been detained since the end of the war in Afghanistan at Guantanamo Bay.

"Naturally, I am going to question John Ashcroft about his intentions," Perben said in an interview with French radio. "I do not think that this can last for very long."

Ashcroft is the most senior US official to visit France since the governments of both countries split over the Iraq war.

Explaining the attorney general's failure to appear at the news conference, French officials suggested that he was under orders not to appear in public with his French counterparts.

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