U.S. pressures Qatar to restrain TV outlet
By Andrea Koppel and Elise Labott
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is pressuring Qatar to restrain the al-Jazeera cable TV network, which the United States believes is unbalanced and encourages anti-American sentiment in the Middle East, the State Department said Wednesday.
Secretary of State Colin Powell met Wednesday with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose government currently holds the presidency of the Organization of Islamic Countries. President Bush is scheduled to meet with the emir Thursday at the White House.
The Bush administration wants Qatar to use its influence with the cable network, which is based in Qatar and is considered the most widely watched in the Arab world, officials said.
Officials said the station continues to run an old television interview with Osama bin Laden and has invited anti-American guests who have argued that U.S. foreign policy was to blame for the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Further, they questioned the accuracy of al-Jazeera's reports, citing broadcasts over the weekend that said U.S. Special Operations forces were captured in Afghanistan, which the United States denied.
"We had a frank exchange," one senior State Department official told CNN about Powell's meeting with the emir. "There should have been no mistake of where we are coming from."
The official said the emir was "defensive" about the issue and countered that while his government was aware of U.S. sensitivities on the issue, it did not feel al-Jazeera was any more inflammatory than any other Arab media outlet.
"He said he would take it under advisement," the official said, noting that the inflammatory broadcasts have quieted a bit in the few days preceding the emir's visit, but that Washington was looking for continued calm.
State Department officials told CNN that U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Maureen Quinn last week delivered a demarche, or formal U.S. protest, to Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani about the broadcasts.
For the past year, al-Jazeera has featured coverage on the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces, which the United States believes has fueled anger in the Arab world.
"We are getting hammered in the Arab world," one official said. "Many feel that al-Jazeera is trying to run the divide and fuel the flames of fundamentalism."
The emir confirmed that the Bush administration asked his government to use its influence on al-Jazeera.
"This is true. We heard from the U.S. administration, and also from the previous U.S. administration," he said. "Naturally we take these things as a kind of advice."
The emir said that as the country embarks on "parliamentary life" it will encourage a "free and credible media."
"I will go back to the issue," he said about the cable network.
The emir also said that Arab and Muslim countries need further convincing about the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.
"What is required now is how we combat terrorism, but in a clear and frank way that convinces everyone, convinces the protesters in America and convinces the Arab world and Islamic world at the same time," the emir said.
As holder of the current presidency of the Organization of Islamic Countries, Qatar is seen as a key country in securing Arab and Muslim support for the international coalition against terrorism.
When asked about concerns that the United States could go after Arab or Muslim countries as part of its war against terrorism, Powell said that Washington was "not looking for conflict with other nations."
But he reiterated previous comments by President Bush that "we have to make sure that this campaign focuses on al Qaeda [bin Laden's organization], but also takes note of those nations that provide haven, provide succor, provide support for terrorist organizations."
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