Published June 27, 2004
WASHINGTON – The United States is doing all it can to locate and free three Turkish nationals kidnapped by terrorists in Iraq who are threatening to cut off their heads, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said Sunday.
"We hope it will be possible to rescue them, but it's a dangerous situation," Powell said in an interview from Turkey with CNN's "Late Edition."
"Once again this shows that we're dealing with a terrible terrorist organization, led by Mr. al-Zarqawi, that doesn't care about human life, that doesn't care about the Iraqi people," Powell said.
Militants loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), a suspected Al Qaeda (search) terrorist, say they will behead the hostages if Turkish companies continue to do business with American occupation forces in Iraq. They are also calling for large demonstrations in Turkey against the war and President Bush.
Powell told CNN that there appears to be "a level" of coordination between the terrorists who are taking hostages, setting off bombs and attacking U.S. troops daily in Iraq.
"Hopefully we can penetrate whatever system is operating there, whatever command and control system that is at work," Powell said.
He said he expects the violence to worsen in the coming days.
The hostage-taking and escalating violence increases pressure on Bush and others in his administration during their visit to Turkey for a summit of the 26-member NATO alliance.
Bush wants to leave that meeting, which runs through Tuesday, with a formal commitment from his NATO allies to assist in the training of Iraqi security forces.
"Every indication I have now is that NATO is coming together to say that they would be willing to provide police and military training to Iraqi forces," Powell said.
In an appearance on "Fox News Sunday," Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, also said she expected a positive response from NATO. Details of how and where the training would be provided will be ironed out later, she said.
"NATO will urge that this all happen on a very urgent basis," Rice said.
The alliance "doesn't have a training mechanism, so of course the training will be done largely by member states," Rice said.
Most of the training will take place in Iraq but some forces could be trained outside the country, she said.
Also Sunday, the White House sought to play down a statement by acting Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that the Jan. 31 deadline for elections, laid out in Iraq's interim constitution, is "not absolute yet."
"All of us will work toward that objective," Allawi told CBS News in an interview aired Saturday. "However, security will be (the) main feature of whether we will be able to do it in January, February or March."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States "remains committed" to the January timetable. He noted that a Security Council resolution recently approved at the United Nations calls for holding the elections by end of January.
"Obviously, we're going to be there after the transfer of sovereignty to help the interim government address the security threats and partner with them to eliminate these threats," McClellan told reporters as Bush traveled from Ankara, Turkey to Istanbul.
McClellan said plans to hold elections months from now underscores the need for NATO to help with training Iraqi forces.