Bin Laden's Death Was Top Priority, Negroponte Says

The killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces marks the fulfillment of a goal that was "the highest priority" for America, says former U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte.

The permanent representative to the United Nations from 2001 to 2004, Negroponte was ratified as ambassador to the U.N. just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

And he tells Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep that bringing bin Laden to justice was a central point of America's anti-terrorism strategy.

"President Obama said, and certainly President Bush before him, that this was the highest priority," Negroponte says.

Negroponte, who also served as director of national intelligence, says that when intelligence officials visited President Bush, the meetings often started the same way.

"One of the first questions he'd always ask — you know, partly in jest, but also deadly serious: 'Well, have you found him yet?'

"I mean, this has been a major preoccupation of our leadership, ever since 9/11 occurred."

Reacting to the U.S. killing of the al-Qaida leader, some have voiced the opinion that bin Laden's importance had waned since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — and that his death won't end terrorist threats to the United States.

Asked if U.S. officials were thinking about bin Laden every day, Negroponte says, "Absolutely. And the symbolism is important."

The former Bush official says that "it remains to be seen what kind of impact" bin Laden's death will have on terrorism.

"But clearly, an important leader has been killed," he says. "There's no obvious leader in that individual's place, to come in behind him."

And while it may be hard to anticipate the full impact of bin Laden's death, Negroponte says, "it's going to have a debilitating effect. I have no doubt about that."

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