Originally created 09/24/01

Bush keeps evidence against bin Laden classified



WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Monday backed off the administration's pledge to quickly release evidence against Osama bin Laden. He said doing so could "make the war more difficult to win."

Bush, predicting the anti-terrorism campaign will be his political legacy, worked the military, diplomatic and domestic angles of the gathering war. Between meetings, he said terrorists had underestimated America's resolve when they struck New York and Washington on Sept. 11.

"They made a terrible mistake. They thought somehow they could affect the psyche of our country. They're wrong, and not only that, we'll prove them wrong," Bush said, pounding his fist on the presidential lectern during a Rose Garden event.

He also:

- Froze the assets of known terrorists and terrorist groups, demanding that banks abroad do the same. Bush said it was the first strike in a multi-front war on terrorism.

- Met privately with about 50 relatives of the passengers and crew of United Flight 93, the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

- Revealed that President Vladimir Putin kept Russia's troops off alert status even as U.S. forces stepped up their readiness in the hours after the attacks. "He understands the Cold War is over," Bush said.

- Convened another session of a special White House committee dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist strike. Bush said he is particularly worried about the economy, "but I think when the investors sit back and take a hard look at the fundamentals of the economy, they'll get back in the market."

On another domestic issue, Bush planned to urge Congress on Tuesday to work out disagreements over his education package. Since Sept. 11, his public remarks have almost exclusively focused on the attacks.

Bush also planned to meet with congressional leaders Tuesday, as well as Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a key to his anti-terrorism coalition.

The president ate lunch Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, seeking to patch up hurt feelings after he failed to mention America's neighbor in a speech to Congress on Thursday.

"I didn't think it was necessary to praise a brother," Bush said.

Chretien, accused at home of not doing enough to help America, said, "The president did not ask for any military help from Canada at this time. And I said to him, if there is a need we will be there to help him."

Bush went out of his way to roll back reports that the White House was prepared to detail its case against bin Laden. Some world leaders have urged the administration to provide more information.

"We will not make the war more difficult to win by publicly disclosing classified information," the president said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, standing at Bush's side, sent an entirely different signal a day earlier when he said the administration "in the near future" will be able to release "a document that will describe quite clearly the evidence."

Advisers said Bush was irked by coverage of Powell's remarks. At the news conference, he pointedly asked his secretary of state to field questions about the policy on disclosing information.

Powell said most of the case is classified, but suggested that some information might be "shared with the public" eventually. He sounded considerably less certain than he did on Sunday.