- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2001

Jesse Jackson said yesterday that he was leaning against visiting Afghanistan to meet with leaders of the ruling Taliban militia, while the administration restated its opposition to Mr. Jackson undertaking a mediator role.

As it stands now, Mr. Jackson said, "I am inclined not to go, but will continue communicating" with Taliban officials and clerics.

The 59-year-old former Democratic presidential candidate said that he would also need some specifics from the Taliban regime about what a visit to Afghanistan might accomplish.

Mr. Jackson said he received a letter yesterday from the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan inviting him to meet with high-ranking Taliban officials. But the missive does not, he said, "increase my inclination to go. I've not made a decision to go at present but it does deserve study."

"They did not say they would comply with the global appeal to give up terrorists in terrorist camps," Mr. Jackson continued. "That would be very appealing. Anything less than something concrete like that would be against making such a trip."

The letter from Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef read: "In the current, critical situation, there's more need for prudence, sagacity and patience to solve issues between Afghanistan and America through peaceful means, and we welcome your mediation to meet high-ranking Afghan government officials in Afghanistan."

Mr. Jackson was in Orlando, Fla., yesterday to host a panel at the annual meeting of the National Black MBA Association. The panel's topic was foreign policy and the war on terrorism. He was scheduled to return to Chicago last night.

During a press briefing in Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was terse on questions about Mr. Jackson's involvement.

"The president could not have said it any plainer in his speech to the nation: It's time for actions, not words," he said, noting that Mr. Jackson spoke yesterday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as well as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. "The United States government is not going to negotiate or have any discussion with the Taliban."

Mr. Jackson, though, appeared to set out his own version of U.S. policy yesterday.

"First of all, we have an obligation, as we fight the war on terrorism, to define what terrorism is," he said. "Often it may be a state that uses means to suppress the right of self-determination to maintain its power with greed, and may be undemocratic, or may be those who are locked out into desperation, and desperate people do desperate things."

One of Mr. Jackson's stated goals of any mission to the Middle East would be to assist in turning terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden over to an international court.

But bin Laden faces trial in the United States. He is under two federal indictments for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa.

Mr. Jackson has not addressed this. Yesterday, he questioned who the "judges and jury" would be if bin Laden were to give himself up. He further questioned the administration's "no negotiating" policy.

"What will be the process of search of evidence? Who will be the judges? Who will be the jury, as the case may be? That involves negotiations," Mr. Jackson said.

Without his government's support for a visit, Mr. Jackson said, any visit he might make will focus on gaining the release of eight persons, including two Americans, who are jailed in Afghanistan on a charge of preaching Christianity.

Mr. Jackson, who has conducted several successful international-relations missions, maintained that he was tapped by the Taliban for a role as a mediator. The Taliban insists that Mr. Jackson placed the call to Pakistan inquiring about possible negotiations.

"We have not invited him, but he has made an offer to mediate which has been accepted by our leader Mullah Mohammad Omar," Mr. Zaeef told the Afghan Islamic Press on Thursday.

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