Bush leads delegation to Ground Zero

By KATHY A. GAMBRELL, White House reporter  |  Nov. 11, 2001 at 3:19 PM
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NEW YORK, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- President Bush and leaders from around the world Sunday stood in the shadow of the World Trade Center ruins and, in a colorful and solemn ceremony, honored the dead from more than 80 nations.

Held on the two-month anniversary of the terror attacks, the ceremony remembered those killed when suicide hijackers using passenger airliners as fuel-laden bombs destroyed the World Trade Center twin towers located in the heart of New York City's financial district.

The site of the ruins is a few miles away from the United Nations, where the 56th session of the General Assembly was held this weekend.

President Bush led the international delegation to a makeshift platform placed near the edge of the ruins. He was accompanied by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, New York Republican Gov. George Pataki, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg, with whom the president had lunch with earlier in the day. Also present was Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

The service was the first time world leaders came together since the attacks to mourn the 4,394 people (by latest count) who lost their lives in the attacks. New York firefighters and police officers working to clear rubble from the site were invited to attend the ceremony. They have become heroes to people in the city and around the country for their daunting rescue and recovery efforts. Many of them stopped work and looked on as an acrid, metallic smell hung overhead.

A diverse group of religious leaders led the audience in prayer and remembrance. Actor Ron Silver, who is known for his role on NBC's "West Wing," quietly read two-by-two the names of the countries that lost citizens in the attacks as an honor guard slowly walked that nation's flag along the stage.

At its conclusion, Bush signed "Good will triumph over evil" on a wall emblazoned with the names of the countries set up near the stage. Annan wrote, "Together we will stand against evil,"

Bush did not make remarks during the 45-minute event that concluded a busy weekend of foreign diplomacy. It gave him his first opportunity to address the international community as a whole and explain the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

In response to the attacks, the United States on Oct. 7 launched air strikes on Afghanistan, whose ruling Taliban regime refused to hand over Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the man the Bush administration claims was behind the attacks, along with members of his al Qaida group.

Bush thanked the members of the General Assembly -- particularly the Arab nations -- and the Security Council for its quick action condemning the attacks in emergency meetings one day after they occurred. He expressed the appreciation of the American people for words and gestures of sympathy, but stressed that the time for condolences was over. The president said World War II demonstrated that there was no isolation from evil and that some crimes were so evil they offended humanity.

To that end, Bush sought to personalize the tragedy for the gathered leaders, saying that a few thousand people lie in a "tomb of rubble" in the remnants of the twin towers.

Bush continued that theme on Sunday during a prayer breakfast when he acknowledged the mother of a police officer who perished in the twin towers and whose mother gave him her son's badge. Then he escorted Annan to the site of the collapsed towers.

Bush on Saturday dismissed the assertions that the attacks were done in the name of religion, saying that the assaults were funded with drug dealing and that the terrorists were encouraging murder and suicide despite the fact their professed faith of Islam forbids such acts.

He warned that terrorists sought to overthrow governments, destabilize entire regions and that they were likely planning more attacks.

"Every nation has a stake in this cause. As we meet, the terrorists are planning more murder, perhaps in my country, or perhaps in yours," Bush said.

The president also warned that al Qaida was attempting to obtain weapons of mass destruction that would "turn their hate into holocaust" -- an action that would threaten civilization.

Echoing what has become known as the Bush Doctrine, he said allies of terror are equally guilty of murder and equally accountable. The president also participated in a series of bilateral meetings with leaders from regions in Africa, Croatia and South America where they discussed trade, the economy and regional stability.

Bush returns to Washington, where he is set to meet Monday with former South African President Nelson Mandela. On Tuesday Bush begins talks on missile defense with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Washington before they travel to the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

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