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Powell: Fighting during Ramadan a possibility

Colin Powell
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that he could not rule out military engagement through Ramadan.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that while he hopes goals of the U.S. military campaign against Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban will be accomplished in the next few days, he could not rule out an engagement into Ramadan and winter.

"We are sensitive about Ramadan beginning in mid-November," Powell said. "But we cannot make that the sole determining factor behind what we do militarily."

Powell also dismissed a question of whether Iraq would be next on the list of targets.

''As the president says, first things first," Powell said. "We have to deal with bin Laden and the al Qaeda network and the host countries that support al Qaeda. And then in due course, we will turn our eye on other sources of terrorism, which are destabilizing areas around the world."

The secretary of state made the remarks before a lunch meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Later, he traveled to Capitol Hill to testify before a House of Representatives committee on diplomatic efforts in the war against terrorism.

Powell told lawmakers that while the international coalition against terrorism is growing stronger, the United States still must remind skeptics that it's not the aggressor.

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"We have to do a better job of making our case, and we're working hard doing that," he told the House International Relations Committee.

He noted that Osama bin Laden spent his wealth not to help fellow Muslims but "to go out and murder innocent civilians."

"We want to get the message out that Osama bin Laden is evil, his actions are evil," he said.

Earlier with Powell, Straw pointed to the Irish Republican Army's move to disarm as an example that even Afghanistan -- torn by more than two decades of war -- can find peace.

"It shows how from very, very dark circumstances -- and we've had to deal with terrorism year after year after year which has killed hundreds of people -- it is possible to see the light, provide the process to keep going and achieve results," Straw said.

Powell and Straw met to discuss the U.S.-led military strikes in Afghanistan as well as plans under way between various Afghan factions and exiled King Mohammed Zahir Shah to establish a broad-based government should the Taliban fall.

Straw said any future military action against another country or group would be based on the "clearest evidence of wrongdoing" and "when no other methods would work."

He also said that while negotiations are preferable to military action, people cannot be expected to approach the negotiating table unless there is a response to terrorism.

In a speech Monday at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the British foreign secretary outlined four principles for the international community to help rebuild Afghanistan.

Straw said any future Afghan government should be broad-based, established by the Afghan people. A global coalition is needed to support the rebuilding of Afghanistan, he said, and the United Nations should play a leading role in the political transition. International resources and political will should be devoted to "complete the task," he said.


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