Taliban maintains refusal to turn over bin Laden

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Chicago Tribune staff reporter

Defying new military warnings from the United States and Britain on Tuesday, Afghanistan’s Taliban government again refused to turn over suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and disregarded the American threat to its regime.

“Only Allah changes the regime,” the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said at a news conference in Quetta, Pakistan.

Zaeef reiterated the Taliban insistence that it would not turn over bin Laden without receiving evidence of his participation in the Sept. 11 attacks on America, and he called again for talks with the United States, which President Bush already has rejected.


“We are ready for negotiations,” Zaeef said. “It is up to the other side to agree or not. Only the way of negotiations will solve our problems. We should discuss this issue and decide.”

After weeks of confrontation in which Afghanistan’s radical Islamic government at times has signaled an interest in a diplomatic solution, the lack of new phraseology seemed to represent a hardening of the Taliban’s resolve in the face of strong comments by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In Afghanistan, which remains closed to outsiders, there were reports of Taliban officials traveling around the country mustering support for the nation’s defense. They held talks with tribal leaders, while thousands of Afghans gathered in the city of Kandahar for one of the largest anti-U.S. demonstrations.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Pakistan, the only country to retain diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, said there were no new efforts to convince the Taliban government to hand over bin Laden and escape military action. “But these efforts can be made on the spur of the moment,” said spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan.

He said Pakistan’s government had conveyed to the Taliban leadership “what the situation is, what the dangers are and what the international community is expecting of them.”

“We have also told them that they don’t have much time,” he added.

“We have done our duty as a friend and neighbor,” Khan said.

As part of the Bush administration’s effort to preserve international support for its demand to be given bin Laden, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin met President Pervez Musharraf to brief him on the status of the investigation into the attacks.


Khan said the United States did not offer clear-cut evidence of bin Laden’s involvement or share information about possible military operations against Afghanistan, for which Pakistan has promised to provide logistical support, intelligence information and use of Pakistani airspace.

“We have yet to receive any detailed evidence about the persons responsible for the horrendous act of terrorism, or other links with bin Laden or al-Qaida,” he said, while also repeating Pakistan’s call on Afghanistan to hand over bin Laden.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Mark Wentworth said the 90-minute meeting was designed to inform Pakistan of “the status of the investigation to date,” but he declined to provide any details. Pakistan had indicated it would not be shown confidential elements of what the United States has learned.

After declining to share any evidence against bin Laden with Pakistan because of security concerns, the United States on Tuesday provided its NATO allies with what Secretary General Lord Robertson said was clear evidence that “conclusively” links bin Laden and his terrorist network to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador, dismissed claims that Washington had presented its allies with conclusive evidence.

“If they are giving it (evidence) to the other countries, it belongs to them, not to us,” he replied. “They haven’t given it to us.”