Bush hopes to spread message of religious tolerance

By Sonya Ross

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Bush moved to reinforce his message of religious tolerance Wednesday, holding another high-profile meeting with Sikhs and Muslims to address the bigotry they have faced since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Bush was greeting a group of American Sikhs in the White House Roosevelt Room to discuss “the American message of tolerance and taking action against prejudice,” said spokesman Ari Fleischer. Later Wednesday, Bush was meeting with Muslim leaders.

Fleischer said the president is concerned that, despite his repeated calls for understanding, Muslims and anyone who appears to be of Middle Eastern extraction are still the targets of hate.

“The president believes there are certain American principles that are enduring, and have guided us throughout war and peacetime before,” Fleischer said. “He wants Americans to be cognizant of those.”

Bush fit the sessions between rounds of phone diplomacy, a trip across town to CIA headquarters and a White House committee charged with addressing the economic impact of the Sept. 11 tragedy. He also reached for an element of normalcy by greeting Tufts University freshman Raymond Nunez, the Boys and Girls Club national member of the year.

Bush started his day with phone calls to Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok and President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakstan. Fleischer quoted Nazarbayev as telling Bush that Kazakstan would support his anti-terrorism coalition with all available means.

Kok expressed Dutch solidarity with the effort “and stressed that solidarity means deeds, not just words,” Fleischer said. The Egyptian foreign minister was stopping by Wednesday afternoon to talk with Bush about U.S.-Egyptian cooperation.

Much like his visit Tuesday to FBI headquarters, Bush was touring the Central Intelligence Agency to encourage employees who are working on the terrorism case. Fleischer said Bush is satisfied with the intelligence the CIA provides and maintains faith and confidence in CIA Director George Tenet.

“He wants to express his appreciation,” Fleischer said. “They have a hard job to do.”

Still pending were Bush decisions on an airline security package from Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, and on the need for an economic stimulus.

Aides say they don’t expect a decision soon on the stimulus. Fleischer noted that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has said it would be more prudent to wait.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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