WASHINGTON -- The White House on Saturday rejected Afghanistan's attempt to use jailed foreign aid workers as bargaining chips to pressure the United States to halt its planned anti-terrorist offensive.
President Bush told Afghanistan's Taliban regime in his weekly radio address there is little time left to comply with his demand that the terrorists who plotted the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States be surrendered.
''Full warning has been given and time is running out,'' he said.
Meanwhile, White House officials dismissed the Taliban offer to release the detained workers if the United States abandons its threats to use force.
''The president has made clear from the beginning that the Taliban needs to release the aid workers and that it is time for action, not negotiation,'' said White House spokesperson Claire Buchan.
Bush spent the day at the presidential retreat at Camp David in western Maryland. He was joined by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice; White House chief of staff Andrew Card and George Tenet, head of the Central Intelligence Agency. They conducted a 45-minute teleconference with other security officials in Washington.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, back in the United States after a five-nation tour to drum up support for the anti-terrorism campaign, briefed Bush by phone, the Pentagon said.
Asked whether the White House now considers the aid workers hostages, spokesperson Ari Fleischer said, ''I have nothing further to say other than to refer you to the president's speech and to the statement by Claire Buchan.''
The eight aid workers in Kabul -- four Germans, two Americans and two Australians -- were arrested in August on charges of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.
In the radio address, the president made a clear distinction between the Taliban regime and the Afghan people.
''Our enemy is the terrorists themselves and the regimes that shelter and sustain them,'' Bush said. ''We're offering help and friendship to the Afghan people. It is their Taliban rulers, and the terrorists they harbor, who have much to fear.''
Bush, who on Thursday directed $320 million in immediate humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, urged Congress in the radio address to make money available ''so that one day the United States can contribute, along with other friends of Afghanistan, to the reconstruction and development of that troubled nation.''
He offered no details and White House spokesman Sean McCormack said such a proposal was still ''in the idea stage.''
As diplomatic and military planning for strikes against the terrorists continued, Bush sought to narrow the focus to the Taliban, whose government is not recognized as legitimate by any nation other than neighboring Pakistan.
''The Taliban promotes terror abroad and practices terror against its people, oppressing women and persecuting all who dissent,'' he said in the radio address.
The Taliban militia has given shelter to Osama bin Laden, accused of ordering the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and at the Pentagon.
It has refused Bush's demands that bin Laden be turned over to the United States along with his lieutenants in the al-Qaida terrorist network.
''The Taliban has been given the opportunity to surrender all the terrorists in Afghanistan and to close down their camps and operations,'' the president said.
Now, he said, every nation of the world has a clear choice: ''Stand with the civilized world, or stand with the terrorists. And for those nations that stand with the terrorists, there will be a heavy price.''
Meanwhile, he said, the Afghan people are suffering from ''oppression, famine and misrule'' with many ''on the verge of starvation.''
The United States, he said, is moving to help those who have fled Afghanistan and are now refugees as well as those inside the country.
''Despite efforts by the Taliban to disrupt these critical aid shipments, we will deliver food and seeds, vaccines and medicines, by truck and even by pack animals,'' he said. ''Conditions permitting, we will bring help directly to the people of Afghanistan by air drops.''
''Even as we fight evil regimes, we are generous to the people they oppress,'' Bush said.
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