WASHINGTON – President Bush, meeting with leaders of Kenya and Ethiopia, expressed his condolences Thursday for last week's attacks on Kenya, and pledged to join with the Horn of Africa nations to combat terrorism.
Flanked by President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia in the White House Cabinet Room, the president said, "We welcome two strong friends of America here. Two leaders of countries which have joined us to fight the global war on terrorism."
Bush's meeting with two of Africa's mour country mourns the loss of life in Kenya, the tragedy that befelled your country as a result of killers trying to terrorize freedom-loving people," Bush told the Kenyan.
He said the United States will share intelligence with both countries if their citizens are threatened by terrorists. "The best thing we can do to help secure your countries is to help chase the killers," the president said.
The Kenyan leader replied that security is the most important issue facing the Horn of Africa. Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia told Bush, "I appreciate your support and leadership."
Bush said Wednesday he believed Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network was involved in the attacks.
"I am concerned about al-Qaida anywhere," the president said. "I believe that al-Qaida was involved in the African bombings in Kenya. I believe al-Qaida hates freedom."
Evidence continues to mount that al-Qaida was behind the Kenya attacks -- a bombing at a hotel frequented by Israelis and the firing of missiles at an Israeli charter flight.
Experts said the missiles -- which missed the airplane -- had serial numbers similar to those on one involved in an attempted hit on a U.S. military plane in May, and al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the Kenya attack.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said later than Bush was not making a definitive statement about al-Qaida's link to the Kenya attacks. "He's sharing with you suspicions you've heard from previous quarters," Fleischer said.
Kenya police say they have few leads and have not ruled out involvement by al-Qaida and Itihaad al-Islamiya, an Islamic fundamentalist group from neighboring Somalia. Kenyan officials said their country has been targeted by al-Qaida before, recalling the deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi on Aug. 7, 1998. That blast killed 219 people -- including 12 Americans -- and wounded 5,000. A nearly simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Tanzania killed 12 people and injured more than 80.
A senior Bush administration official said Kenya has helped fight terrorism to the best of its ability, but noted the country does not have the resources for a more aggressive effort.
Kenya is a possible destination for Bush when he travels to Africa next month, a stop that could include a visit to the newly reconstructed embassy that was the bombing target.
As Bush met the two African leaders, U.S. Marines and Kenyan troops were carrying out joint exercises off Kenya's coast. "Operation Edged Mallet" was planned long before last week's attacks just north of Mombasa, the largest port on the east coast of Africa, and was not changed because of them, U.S. officials said.
Kenya is regarded as a key U.S. ally in an unstable region. It shares a long, porous border with Somalia, which has not had an effective government in more than a decade. It also abuts Sudan, which is in the midst of a 19-year civil war.
Besides Somalia, the Horn of Africa includes Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia. Last August, 800 U.S. Special Forces and commandos set up shop in Djibouti, a former French colony, as part of the U.S. led war on terrorism.
For the Kenyan president, the trip to Washington will be his last in office. Presidential elections are set for Dec. 27. Moi, 77, has ruled Kenya since 1978 but is barred by the constitution from running again.
Meles, who is trying to lead his impoverished country to economic and political liberalization, is serving a second five-year term in office.