WASHINGTON – Rejecting a suggestion by Usama bin Laden of a negotiated truce in the war on terror, Vice President Dick Cheney said there was only one way to deal with terrorists. "I think you have to destroy them," Cheney said.
The vague offer of a truce — coupled with a threat of another attack on the U.S. — was made in an audiotape released by the Arab television network Al-Jazeera. It brought new attention to the Al Qaeda leader after a yearlong lull in his public statements.
U.S. security officials said Thursday there were currently no plans to raise the nation's security threat level because of the new tape.
Counterterror officials said they have seen no specific or credible intelligence to indicate an upcoming Al Qaeda attack. Nor have they noticed an uptick in terrorist communications "chatter" — although that can dramatically increase or decrease immediately before an attack.
On the tape, bin Laden warned that his fighters are preparing new attacks in the United States but offered the American people a "long-term truce" without specifying the conditions.
But Cheney, in a television interview, rejected that suggestion, saying "We don't negotiate with terrorists."
"I think you have to destroy them," he told FOX News. "It's the only way to deal with them."
The tape prompted increased security at Los Angeles International Airport and other precautions at the city's port and water and power facilities.
The FBI has asked the 103 joint terrorism task forces and intelligence units at its 56 field offices to re-examine its cases and investigative leads in light of the bin Laden tape.
The national terror threat level currently stands at yellow, the middle of five grades, signifying an elevated risk of attack. The government has raised the alert level to orange, signaling a high threat risk, seven times since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"At this time, we lack corroborating information suggesting that Al Qaeda is prepared to attack the United States in the near term," said Homeland Security spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich. "But we recognize that Al Qaeda remains committed to striking the homeland."
The tape, which Al-Jazeera said was recorded this month, represents bin Laden's first public communication since December 2004. Since then, Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has served as the terror network's public face.
The recording was released only days after U.S. missile attacks in Pakistan that Pakistani officials said killed four senior Al Qaeda operatives.
CIA analysts verified the recording as bin Laden's voice. They offered no details about how they reached that conclusion, but in the past the agency has verified authenticity in part by comparing new recordings to earlier messages.
In the tape, bin Laden spoke in a soft voice, as he has in previous recordings, but his tone was flatter than in the past and had an echo, as if recorded indoors. He presented his message with a combination of threats, vows his followers can fight forever and a tone of reconciliation, insisting he wants to offer a way to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He even recommended a book for Americans to read — "The Rogue State," apparently a book of the same title by American author William Blum. He said it offers the path to peace — that America must apologize to victims of the wars and promise never to "interfere" in other nations — though it was not clear if these were conditions for the truce.
Cheney said the tape showed that Al Qaeda has been hobbled, because "they didn't have the ability to do anything on video" and because it had been so long since bin Laden had been heard from.
Still, "I think we have to assume that the threat is going to continue for a considerable period of time." the vice president said. "Even if bin Laden were no longer to be a factor, I still think we'd have problems with Al Qaeda."
Homeland Security officials alerted states about bin Laden's comments in a routine call Thursday morning, Petrovich said.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said city police deployed additional resources at their airport and "posted signage indicating that bomb sniffing dogs and searches will occur frequently." He described the measures as precautionary.
Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said the capital was not raising its terror alert level.