- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban faction yesterday claimed it had hidden terrorist Osama bin Laden for his own protection and offered to negotiate with the United States, a proposal the Bush administration immediately rejected.
"Osama is in Afghanistan, but he is at an unknown place for his safety and security," Taliban Ambassador Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef told a group of reporters at his residence in the Pakistan capital, Islamabad.
"Only security people know about his whereabouts. Osama bin Laden is under our control," he said.
The ambassador said negotiations to avert a looming military strike might be possible if the United States offered evidence linking bin Laden to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "We are thinking of negotiation," Mr. Zaeef said, adding that evidence against bin Laden "might change things."
He also criticized President Bush, who he said "has stepped away from negotiations and directly gone to a war situation. They have provided no evidence, but they want the man."
The Bush administration, however, said there would be no deal under any circumstances.
"The announcement does not change anything," said White House spokesman Ken Lisaius. He said the president laid out U.S. demands in his Sept. 20 speech to a joint session of Congress, calling for the Taliban to turn over bin Laden and all of his associates, shut down terrorist training camps and open Afghanistan to U.S. inspectors.
"The president was extremely clear in his address to the American people and the Congress that the demands that he outlined were not open to negotiation nor were they open to debate," the Bush spokesman said.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said the Taliban government has been told exactly what to do.
"They've got to turn not only Osama bin Laden over, but all the operatives of the al Qaeda organization. They've got to stop being a haven where terrorists can train," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, along with other U.S. officials, cast doubt on the Taliban ambassador's claim.
"Of course, it was just a few days ago that they said they didn't know where he was, so I have no reason to believe anything a Taliban representative has said," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The Taliban said last week that bin Laden had disappeared from his Afghan hideouts following the terrorist attacks that left nearly 6,000 people dead or missing in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania a statement Mr. Rumsfeld said at the time was "laughable."
Before yesterday's claim by the Taliban ambassador, bin Laden had supposedly been asked by a council of religious leaders to leave Afghanistan, a request to which the terrorist has never responded.
Asked whether the Taliban would suffer if it did not meet U.S. demands to hand over bin Laden, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "I would think that ought to be self-evident at this point."
Mr. Card said yesterday that bin Laden must be "purged from Afghanistan, and the Taliban knows that. The United States is very patient, but we want to see justice done, and we want to see it done quickly."
"We do not want any government to harbor terrorists. And the Taliban government has been harboring terrorists. They've aided, abetted and comforted these terrorists and allowed them to roam not only in their country but to spread out across the world.
"We don't think that they are worthy of the leadership that America and the rest of the world demand," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States is increasingly willing to aid a group in Afghanistan known as the Northern Alliance, which opposes the nonelected Taliban faction.
"There's no question but that there are any number of people in Afghanistan tribes in the South, the Northern Alliance in the North that oppose the Taliban. And clearly, we need to recognize the value they bring to this anti-terrorist, anti-Taliban effort and, where appropriate, find ways to assist them," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
"Undoubtedly most of the people [in Afghanistan] do not support the Taliban," he added.
The Taliban's claim that it has hidden bin Laden in Afghanistan came amid reports that U.S. and British commandos were already in the country searching for the man Mr. Bush has termed the "prime suspect" for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
While the president has said he wants bin Laden "dead or alive," Mr. Card said yesterday the United States does not want to replace the Taliban regime.
"We're not talking about nation-building here. We're ridding the world of terrorists and making sure that no nation is a place where terrorists feel they can get comfort and aid," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld defended the U.S. approach, saying a prolonged campaign is necessary to find and punish terrorists.
"The reality is that a measured approach, which the president has adopted, is the right one. We need to do it right," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
"We have no choice but to take this battle to the terrorists and to find them and to dry up their sources of money and to deal with the people who are harboring them. And that is what we intend to do," he said.
The administration's position of not wanting to overthrow the Taliban regime was, however, disputed by a leading Senate Democrat. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was asked about the Taliban's claim that it is hiding bin Laden during an interview on CNN's "Late Edition."
"That just shows, without any doubt, that the Taliban are now a target of ours, because we've made it very clear that it's not just Osama bin Laden and his network which is a target, but any country which harbors him or any group which harbors him," said Mr. Levin.
Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday also said the United States was taking steps to defend against a possible biological, chemical or nuclear attack.
"We know of certain knowledge that the nations on our terrorism list have chemical or biological weapons, and we know that a number of them are seeking nuclear weapons. And we know that they have close linkages with terrorist networks and that, in many cases, they have sponsored terrorists," he said.
Also yesterday, Gen. Henry Shelton, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more than 100 nations have thrown their support behind the United States in its effort to wipe out terrorism.
"We've got over 100 nations now that are in support, an international coalition in support of going after these terrorist organizations. So it'll be not only America, and America's political, diplomatic, economic and military power that'll be applied, but it'll be an international effort that will also bring in the great capabilities of our partners, our allies and our friends around the world," the general said on ABC's "This Week."
Joyce Howard Price contributed to this report.

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