Bush Rebuts Christian Leaders' Remarks Against Islam

President Bush yesterday distanced himself from anti-Islamic remarks made by religious conservatives.

"Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans," the president said in the Oval Office before a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. "Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others. Ours is a country based upon tolerance, Mr. Secretary General, and we respect the faith and we welcome people of all faiths in America."

Bush did not name names, but various religious conservative leaders, including Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, have made remarks that have offended Muslims. Robertson was reported as saying in a broadcast Monday that "Adolf Hitler was bad, but what the Muslims want to do to the Jews is worse."

U.S. Indicts Leaders

Of Colombian Rebel Group

Leaders of a Colombian rebel group branded as terrorists by the United States were charged with kidnapping Americans and trafficking in drugs in federal indictments unsealed yesterday. Some charges could carry the death penalty, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said.

The charges mark the latest in a flurry of U.S. efforts to dismantle rival factions in the 38-year-old Colombian civil war and stem the South American nation's lucrative cocaine trade. Federal officials say the groups use cocaine sales and ransom demands to fund their war efforts.

The indictments were brought against members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is battling the Colombian government and an outlawed paramilitary group. The State Department lists FARC as a foreign terrorist organization.

Agreement Reached on Plan

To Reduce Ozone Levels

The Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups yesterday reached agreement in court on a plan to begin a long-delayed process for reducing ozone levels to meet national air quality standards that were issued in 1997.

Under the agreement, the EPA must determine by April 2004 which areas in the country are failing to meet the tough new standard for ozone, a powerful irritant that contributes heavily to asthma and other health problems. Once the EPA makes the determination, state and local governments will be required to reduce industry smog emissions to 0.08 parts per million averaged over eight hours.

The suit was brought in federal court in Washington by several groups, including the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club. "The long wait since 1997 has meant that our air has stayed dirty far too long and many more people have suffered," said John L. Kirkwood, president of the American Lung Association.

Joe Martyak, a spokesman for the EPA, blamed the delay largely on lawsuits brought by industry and environmentalists. "We look forward to doing the work . . . instead of spending time on lawsuits," he said.

-- Compiled from reports by staff writers Eric Pianin and Dana Milbank and the Associated Press