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Tuesday, August 25, 1998 Published at 03:55 GMT 04:55 UK

Special Report

Target USA

Why does America have so many enemies? Jonathan Fryer reports.

In the wake of the bombings at the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the Clinton administration has revealed that there have been many other threats against US property and citizens abroad.

US Under-Secretary of State for Administration, Patrick Kennedy: "A large number of threats coming in"
Some have been hoaxes but many are real.

The embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania slaughtered many Africans, as well as Americans. But there is no doubt that the target of the atrocities was the United States.

Investigations are still underway into exactly who is to blame, but the Clinton administration belives that dissident Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden had a key role in the attacks.

Threats commonplace

Sectretary of State Madeleine Albright: "This is a long term problem for the United States"
The fact is though that there is no shortage of countries, organisations and individuals who have a grievance against the most powerful country on earth. In fact, threats against Americans and American institutions abroad are commonplace.

When asked, shortly after the embassy bombings, why she thought US diplomats had been targetted in East Africa, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright replied that maybe it was because of the values for which the United States stands.

Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright: "We stand for the values of tollerance and openness and pluralism"
"Perhaps they were singled out because they represent a country that is the world's most powerful defender of freedom and justice and law," she said.

"Because we are strong and because we use our strength to resolve conflict that some wish would go on forever."

The role of Islam

But not everyone sees things that way.

Sheikh Omar Bakhri Mohammed is the leader of al-Muhajiroun, an international Islamic organisation dedicated to the establishment of a world Islamic state.

"The cause of the problem," he says "is the presence of the American forces in Saudi Arabia, and the embargo against the Muslims in Iraq, and the presence of the state of Israel."

Osaman bin Laden (in Arabic)
America's prime suspect, Osama bin Laden has the same view. "Islamic places are under the control of Jews and Christians for the first time since the time of the prophet Mohammed," he says.

America's strong support for Israel has antagonised many in the developing world, particularly those who empathise with the Palestinian cause.

American standards

[ image: Osama bin Laden: America's most wanted]
Osama bin Laden: America's most wanted
And what might appear to the American government as defending certain values can seem to other nations to be a form of aggression or trying to impose American standards on other parts of the world.

President Fidel Castro of Cuba, for example, does not mince his words when decrying US sanctions against his country, which are aimed at bringing an end to his Marxist regime. "This is genocide," he says. "It is turning a nation into a ghetto."

Even close US allies like the European Union, Canada and Mexico are sometimes uncomfortable with the way that Washington promotes its policies towards places like Cuba.

But recent US governments have maintained that it was largely because of US resolve that Communism - notably described by former President Ronald Reagan as the Soviet Union's "evil empire" - has collapsed.

Perceived threat

Hala Maksoud, President of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee: The Islamic "threat"
Now, though, a new perceived threat may be taking the place of Communism as something against which the United States feels it must fight: namely Islam.

"Every time there is any kind of incident fingers are pointed at Muslims," says Hala Maksoud, President of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Certainly that is how things are seen by many Muslim clerics in Iran, whose revolution has been a particular source of US disapproval.

Frequently, pro-government Iranians have denounced America as the Great Satan.

Sheikh Omar Bakhri Mohammed, leader of al-Muhajiroun: "American targets are considered part of the American government"
Although the rhetoric has been toned down since President Mohammad Khattami took over, many Iranian leaders, such as the judicial chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, believe Washington has to be kept at arm's length.

"It is obvious that as long as America's approach and behaviour remain hegemonic and arrogant, one should not speak of resuming ties," he says.

Sole superpower

Another, disquieting dimension for the United States' friendly relations with the rest of the world is that some governments and people think that now that the United States is the only super-power, it is using the United Nations to implement its own policy goals.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Ali: it is the American wish to keep sanctions against the Iraqi people
Earlier this month the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, said as much when he criticised the work of the UN weapons inspection team, Unscom, in Iraq, accusing the Chief Weapons Inspector, Richard Butler, of "serving American policies."

As Iraq is on the US black-list of countries which do not behave by what Washington considers to be international norms, the Clinton administration does not take such remonstrations very seriously.

Standing firm

But as President Clinton himself underlines, threats against the US and its values are taken seriously - but they are not going to persuade the US government to change course in a hurry.

President Clinton: "We must be strong in dealing with this"
Compared with some of his predecessors, Mr Clinton tends to be quite temperate in his language when talking about perceived hostile states.

But he maintains enough of the policies that cause aggravation in some parts of the world - such as promoting Western-style democracy and human rights, and standing up for Israel - to ensure that such hostility will not disappear overnight.

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