WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- President Bush on Tuesday spoke via satellite to 16 Eastern European leaders gathered in Warsaw for a summit on terrorism and warned them that suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden may be trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
"You are our partners in the fight against terrorism and we share an important moment in history," Bush told the leaders attending the Conference on International Terrorism in Poland. "For more than 50 years, the peoples of your region suffered under oppressive ideologies that tried to trample human dignity. Today our freedom is threatened once again."
Most of those attending were former Soviet states or were members of the now defunct Warsaw Pact.
Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldavia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine and Yugoslavia were expected to adopt a plan to combat terrorism during the summit. Belarus, Turkey, the European Union, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were expected to attend the summit as observers.
Bush's address came nearly two months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington that killed some 5,000 people. In response to the attacks, the United States launched airstrikes on Afghanistan whose ruling Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, the man Washington says was behind the attacks, and members of his al Qaida network.
"Like the fascists and totalitarians before them, these terrorists -- al Qaida, the Taliban regime that supports them and other terror groups across our world -- try to impose their radical views through threat and violence," Bush said from the White House's Treaty Room.
He warned that they might try to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
"They are seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons," Bush said. "Given the means, our enemies would be a threat to every nation and, eventually, to civilization itself."
Bush's speech was part of his efforts to shore up foreign support for the U.S. war on terrorism. Some countries have said the U.S. airstrikes have adversely affected Afghan civilians. Reports from the region suggest that U.S. forces have missed targets, mistakenly bombed civilian installations and have been forced to back away from attacking Taliban positions set up in residential areas.
Bush assured Eastern European leaders that the United States was making progress in destroying al Qaida and emphasized that U.S. action did not place Afghans at risk.
"We're making good progress in a just cause. Our efforts are directed at terrorists and military targets because, unlike our enemies, we value human life," Bush said. "We do not target innocent people, and we grieve for the difficult times the Taliban have brought to the people of their own country."
Referring to a "second wave of terrorist attacks," Bush said those who sent anthrax-tainted letters that have thus far killed four people would be tracked down and punished.
"The people of my nation are now fighting this war at home. We face a second wave of terrorist attacks in the form of deadly anthrax that has been sent through the U.S. mail," he said. "Our people are responding to this new threat with alertness and calm. Our government is responding to treat the sick, provide antibiotics to those who have been exposed and track down the guilty, whether abroad or at home."
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who opened the conference at his presidential palace, warned participants of tough times ahead.
"The times which are coming will certainly be more difficult and more demanding for politicians, and heads of state," he said. "Many issues have to be thought over again, many expectations have to be put aside for other times."
Kwasniewski went on to say, "We must not also forget that terrorists' activities are supported by the public, mainly in those countries and communities where people are poor and deprived of hope."
Bush's speech to the Warsaw conference was considered a precursor to his trip to New York Saturday where he was to address the U.N. General Assembly. There he will have to convince a broader world audience the U.S. war on terrorism was in the best interests of the global community.
"Later this week at the United Nations, I will set out my vision of our common responsibilities in the war on terror," Bush said. "I will put every nation on notice that these duties involve more than sympathy or words. No nation can be neutral in this conflict, because no civilized nation can be secure in a world threatened by terror."
In New York, Bush was expected to meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who is under increasing pressure from Islam-based political parties to withdraw his support for the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.
Later Tuesday, he was to meet with French President Jacques Chirac.
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was to return to Washington for the first time since Sept. 20, when he sat with first lady Laura Bush as the president addressed a joint session of Congress detailing his war on terrorism.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern were also to visit Washington this week.
Next week, Bush was scheduled to travel to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for the first time since Sept .11, and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders were expected to discuss the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the United States wants to scuttle in favor of a new framework that would allow testing of a missile defense shield. Bush believes such a system would protect America from accidental launches or launches by nations it regards as rogue states.