- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

A Pakistani delegation today will deliver a U.S. ultimatum to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban to hand over Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Pakistani officials said yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Taliban's U.N. liaison, the only representative of the Afghan regime in the United States, said in a telephone interview from New York that he was convinced that his leaders "will not sacrifice the people of Afghanistan for the protection of only one person" and urged them to cooperate with Washington in fighting terrorism.
Pakistan will give the Taliban an ultimatum to deliver bin Laden in three days, CNN reported, quoting sources close to Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. But the Pakistani ambassador to Washington, Maleeha Lodhi, said she had no knowledge of a deadline.
After today's meeting between the Taliban and the Pakistani delegation, the United States will send a team of officials to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, which has pledged full support for Washington's anti-terrorism efforts, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday.
"What we now have to do is send a team to Islamabad as soon as we have a better idea of what we will need and what support might be required and talk directly to our Pakistani friends," Mr. Powell said in a CNN interview, adding that the delegation would leave "in the next several days."
In telephone conversations with President Bush and Mr. Powell last week, Gen. Musharraf received specific requests for cooperation in capturing bin Laden and fighting his extensive terrorist network, known as al Qaeda. According to U.S. officials, these requests include accessing Pakistan's airspace, sealing off the border with Afghanistan, cutting fuel supplies and sharing intelligence.
Gen. Musharraf was reported as saying yesterday that Pakistan could give the United States logistical support and even allow U.S. ships to dock along its coast in any attack on Afghanistan.
In off-the-record briefings to newspaper editors, politicians and religious leaders, Gen. Musharraf reportedly said that although Mr. Bush gave few details about military action, the Pakistani leader received the impression that the United States would look to Pakistan for logistical support.
Gen. Musharraf, who came to power after a bloodless coup in October 1998, has been under increasing pressure from the United States to cooperate but has also been warned by religious and other leaders against helping the West in a war on Afghanistan.
Mr. Powell said yesterday that the U.S. would bear in mind Gen. Musharraf's domestic problems.
"In our conversations with the Pakistani government in the days and weeks ahead, we will be mindful that they have internal problems that they are dealing with," he said. "They came to the judgment that even with the difficulty it might cause internally, this was such a problem, such a crisis that they were willing to take risks. And I compliment them for that."
Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Shamshad Ahmad, said yesterday evening in New York that the delegation's trip to Afghanistan had been cleared by the United Nations, which has imposed sanctions banning travel to Afghanistan. Pakistan is one of only three states recognizing the Taliban's rule.
Said Mrs. Lodhi: "We will be urging the Taliban leadership to accede to the demand of the international community to hand over the person that they are harboring, Osama bin Laden, so that he is brought to justice."
Mrs. Lodhi said the Pakistani officials would travel to the city of Kandahar, where the Taliban inner circle has its headquarters.
Separately, the Chinese news service Xinhua reported last night that Gen. Musharraf may visit both China and Saudi Arabia, key allies of Pakistan, this week to discuss the fallout from the attacks. Xinhua said the trip to Beijing, which was not confirmed by either capital, could start as early as today.
The Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, yesterday called an urgent council of senior Islamic clerics to discuss the defense of his poor and isolated nation, in a meeting that is expected to begin by Wednesday.
"As regards the possible attack by America on the sacred soil of Afghanistan, veteran honorable [clerics] should come to Kabul," he said in a statement broadcast on the Taliban's Voice of Shariat radio. "The valorous nation can defend Islam and their country in the light of their verdict."
Although the Taliban warned its citizens on the weekend to prepare for a "jihad," the only Taliban official on U.S. territory said yesterday he hopes his leadership will make a "prudent and wise decision" and cooperate with the United States.
"Our stand is that we are against terrorism in any shape or form," said Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, liaison representative of the Taliban to the United Nations.
He said he had spoken with Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil yesterday morning and had urged him to "hand bin Laden over to the U.S. government or a third country."
"They will not sacrifice the people of Afghanistan for the protection of only one person," he said of the Taliban.
Bin Laden denied again yesterday that he had anything to do with Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"I stress that I have not carried out this act, which appears to have been carried out by individuals with their own motivation," said the statement, broadcast by Qatar's Al-Jazeera satellite channel.
Mr. Powell and Vice President Richard B. Cheney said yesterday the United States had no evidence of links between last week's strikes and the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"At the moment, we see no fingerprints between Iraq and what happened last Tuesday, but we are looking," Mr. Powell told CBS.
But both he and Mr. Cheney, who spoke on NBC, said that if such evidence were uncovered, the United States would not hesitate to retaliate against Iraq, which Washington has labeled a "state sponsor of terrorism."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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