- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

The Taliban denied yesterday that it invited Jesse Jackson to mediate the growing crisis with the United States, while administration officials and black leaders urged the former Democratic presidential hopeful not to go to Afghanistan.
But Mr. Jackson is still weighing a trip.
"Either the Taliban government is going to stand alone and take on this world pressure, or they are going to look for some graceful way out," Mr. Jackson said yesterday. "I hope that appealing to a peace delegation could be a bridge. We would like to see this situation resolved in a way that preserves the dignity and integrity of all sides."
Mr. Jackson announced during a Rainbow/PUSH Coalition fund-raiser in Washington on Wednesday evening that he had received the invitation to lead a "peace delegation."
"I got a call today from the Taliban spokesman in Pakistan, offering me to lead a peace delegation to the country," Mr. Jackson told his audience.
But in Islamabad, Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, denied issuing an invitation
"We have not invited him, but he offered to mediate and our leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has accepted this offer," Mr. Zaeef told the Afghan Islamic Press, a Pakistan-based private news agency. "He has ordered the authorities to extend cooperation if Jesse Jackson visits Afghanistan. We will have no objection."
During an interview yesterday, Mr. Jackson backpedaled when questioned about the invitation.
"I was surprised that I heard from them," Mr. Jackson said initially. "I really don't want to go."
Later, he said: "It doesn't matter who initiated this, but that both of us are interested in talking."
The State Department said any Jackson visit would be exclusively private and he would not go as a representative of the U.S. government.
"We know that he was invited. How that invitation came about, I just don't know," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday. But "any such discussion would be at Reverend Jackson's own initiative or decision. He would not be carrying a message from the United States."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said: "Whether he does or does not accept an invitation, whether one has been offered or not and there seems to be some confusion about that is up to Reverend Jackson."
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that the Taliban was now feeling the pressure from the United States to give up Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born militant who Washington believes masterminded the Sept. 11 airplane attacks on the United States.
He said that a Jackson visit, ostensibly to obtain bin Laden for trial in an "international court" would buy the Taliban more time.
"It seems to me they're trying to delay making a decision on their own," Mr. Armitage said. "We're hopeful they'll make the right choice."
But, he added, "The demands are not subject to dialogue."
Mr. Jackson said yesterday that if he took up the role as mediator, another of his goals would be to secure the release of two Americans and other foreign aid workers on trial in Afghanistan on charges of advocating Christianity in the Muslim country.
The civil rights leader also said the release of bin Laden would certainly be preferable to having Afghanistan incur a military attack.
In a statement issued yesterday, Mr. Jackson said that "it is imperative that the Taliban appreciate the value of reaching out to the international community and not remain in isolation. This is a saner and safer route for all involved than to further plunge Afghanistan down the path of isolation and military escalation. They must choose world court over world war."
Despite the widespread official misgivings, Mr. Jackson said any trip would not be done "in defiance of our government," and he has tried to win such support from higher-ups in the administration.
"When this call came, I immediately called [Secretary of State] Powell. I called [National Security Advisor] Dr. Condoleezza Rice," Mr. Jackson said yesterday. "If we are able to appeal to the Taliban to choose the world court and to release bin Laden, rather than seeing more innocent people killed, that must be seen as a good thing."
But Mr. Powell restated the administration's admonition to Mr. Jackson.
"We have nothing to negotiate. They know what our position is. He is free to travel. I don't know what purpose would be served right now, since the position of the United States and the international community is quite clear. And so it's a matter for he and whoever he was speaking to over there to decide."
Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said yesterday that Mr. Jackson risked torpedoing any possible deal between the United States and the Taliban regime.
"If he were asked by the secretary of state or the White House, he should do it, but without an understanding of what is already being done, he would be being used by the Taliban," Mr. Young warned. "It is dangerous for American citizens to negotiate. I really don't think he will go."
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat, yesterday questioned both the wisdom of the visit and Mr. Jackson's safety.
Mr. Jackson, a special envoy to Africa under President Clinton, has relished his role as an international mediator, and has found success at times.

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