- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

The Bush administration yesterday dispatched a senior envoy to meet with the exiled Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, in Rome as part of a global effort to isolate Afghanistan's Taliban government.
State Department Director of Policy Planning Richard Haass is to meet this week with the king, who last week reached an agreement with some Afghan groups to begin preparing a rival government.
"We have kept in regular touch with all members of the Afghan factions in exile and elsewhere," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher in announcing the upcoming meeting.
"But clearly, since September 11th, the issues involving Afghanistan have become even more important and even more pressing to the United States," Mr. Boucher said.
The Haass visit to the king comes as Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld meets this week with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan to beef up intelligence and military planning.
Any military operation to capture or kill suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, believed hiding in Afghanistan, would require help from regional Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, where some U.S. forces are already stationed.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met yesterday with the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Thani, and the foreign minister of Portugal, Jaime Gama, in continuing efforts to build a global anti-terrorism coalition.
With the emir at his side, Mr. Powell told reporters that the U.S. focus was on bin Laden's terror network, but that the campaign "also takes note of those nations that provide haven, provide succor, provide support to terrorist organizations."
The Bush administration needs to firm up support in Muslim nations so they do not become either destabilized by Islamic militants at home or succumb to radical Islamist claims that America is anti-Muslim.
Qatar is under criticism by the United States for allowing its quasi-independent television station Al-Jazeerah known as the CNN of the Arab world to broadcast repeatedly interviews with Osama bin Laden.
A State Department official speaking on the condition of anonymity said yesterday that the U.S. ambassador in Qatar had formally objected to the anti-Western tone of some broadcasts by the station.
Mr. Powell also dismissed reports of Saudi government reluctance to endorse the war on terrorism, saying, "We are very satisfied with the support that the Saudi Arabian government has provided to us."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden, Delaware Democrat, said after a separate meeting with Mr. Powell that U.S. aid would be needed for the region following the campaign to capture or kill bin Laden.
"We should be part of a plan to rebuild the region under a U.N. mandate not just get rid of al Qaeda," Mr. Biden said, referring to the bin Laden terrorist group.
In another diplomatic move, U.S., British and Libyan officials met yesterday in London as part of a series of meetings following the trial of Libyan officials in the downing of the Pan Am flight over Scotland in 1988, Mr. Boucher said.
"We think that following the Sept. 11 attacks, it is more important than ever for Libya to comply with U.N. Security Council obligations," to clear up its links to terrorism, Mr. Boucher said.
Mr. Rumsfeld's visit to Central Asia does not include a stop in Pakistan.
However, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to visit Pakistan shortly. Britain has joined the United States in sending troops to the region for an anticipated military strike.
Given public sympathy for bin Laden within Pakistan and opposotion to any U.S. attack on Muslims, the United States appears to have backed away from using Pakistan as a base for military action.
Yesterday, a group of Pakistani Islamic clerics dropped plans to travel to Afghanistan and make an appeal for the Taliban to deal with requests for bin Laden to be handed over to the Americans.
A member of the Jamaat-i-Islami, the largest Islamic political party in Pakistan, said there was no hope of changing the Taliban's mind.
Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan the only country that still has relations with the Taliban repeated calls for the United States to provide proof of bin Laden's involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks and negotiate.
Mr. Boucher said yesterday that the United States was not interested in negotiations with the Taliban.

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