WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Tuesday that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida 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-Qaida and the Taliban regime, administration officials are increasingly concerned that in some quarters overseas, the war is seen as solely an American affair.
Previewing 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 brought to distant quarters 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 specific concern in public.
Bush presented it first in a speech, 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-Qaida 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."
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 or prime ministers and other leaders from 17 countries that were largely part of the Soviet orbit until a decade ago.
Bin Laden's interest in obtaining nuclear, biological or chemical weapons has worried U.S. counterterrorism authorities for years, a Bush administration official said. Multiple reports, all unproven, suggest that his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons or material have been unrelenting.
In a federal court earlier this year, a former bin Laden aide testified that he had tried to obtain weapons-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-Qaida, he said. But he said he didn't know whether the cylinder actually contained uranium -- or whether it eventually made it to al-Qaida.
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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