Nearly two weeks ago, the Taliban -- the militia which controls most of Afghanistan -- said it could not surrender suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden to the U.S. because it did not know where he was. One American official dismissed this assertion as "laughable." Now, the Taliban says it has bin Laden in its control, and it is open to negotiations with the U.S. The reaction from Washington was the same.
Washington, 1 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. is standing by its refusal to negotiate with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban about a surrender of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Yesterday (30 September), the Taliban's ambassador to neighboring Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef -- speaking through an interpreter -- said bin Laden is still in Afghanistan and is under the "control" of the militia, which maintains military control over most of the country.
"He said wherever he is he is under the control of the Islamic Taliban, one because of his safety, and only the security people who are responsible for his safety know his whereabouts and no one else. But he is wherever he is, under the control of the Islamic Taliban."
Zaeef said the Taliban wants the U.S. to provide evidence that bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington that left about 6,000 people missing or dead. He said the militia is prepared to negotiate bin Laden's surrender.
In Washington, senior U.S. officials rejected the idea of negotiations.
Andrew Card, U.S. President George W. Bush's chief of staff, said on U.S. television ("Fox News Sunday") that the president already has ruled out negotiations, and he added that the Taliban ought to be driven from power if it refuses to give up bin Laden. He said the Taliban is unworthy to govern Afghanistan because it harbors terrorists.
And U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on another television program (CBS's "Face the Nation") he doubts whether the Taliban is really in a position to negotiate. He said he does not accept the militia's claim that it has "control" over bin Laden.
"Well, 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 would say."
Meanwhile, Washington sought to prepare Americans for a new kind of war. There has been some concern that people may become impatient if there is not quick military response to the attacks.
Two weeks ago, senior officials in the Bush administration appeared on the Sunday television interview programs to get the country used to the idea of a long war. Yesterday they made it clear that visible action -- much less results -- may take time.
Rumsfeld said he was confident that Americans will show patience.
"The Cold War was not won in a year or two, it was 50-plus years that we were engaged in that. That shows that the people of the world, free people, have steadiness of purpose and are willing to be determined and sustain an effort over a broad front over a long period of time."
And during an interview on another television program (ABC's "This Week"), General Henry Shelton, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, sought to drive home the idea that the U.S. response would not be limited to military action. Shelton -- whose retirement as the nation's highest-ranking general is effective today -- said:
"It requires a multifaceted approach, a multidimensional approach, using all the elements of our national power -- diplomatic, political, economic, as well as our military capabilities."
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been mounting the diplomatic effort by building a coalition of countries to join in the campaign against international terrorism. Bush has led the political effort by getting members of Congress and the American people to support it.
And last week (24 September), Bush announced a potentially powerful element of the economic effort to make it impossible for terrorists to conduct business. He said the U.S. Treasury is freezing American bank accounts of 27 individuals and organizations that he described as being involved in terrorism.
And Bush said that if foreign banks do not cooperate in the effort to shut down terrorist business transactions, their own bank accounts and transactions will be frozen in America.
Bush also has promised not to limit his campaign to bin Laden and his organization, known as Al-Qaeda. Administration officials have been careful not to mention other groups and other countries where they operate. But in the past, the U.S. has accused countries like Iraq, Libya, and Syria of being state sponsors of terrorism.
Yesterday, a television interviewer asked Rumsfeld if the U.S. will go after Iraq once it is finished dealing with the Taliban. Rumsfeld replied that Washington already is targeting other countries.
"If Al-Qaeda's in 50 or 60 countries, which we know, then clearly this is not a single-country problem."
But the defense secretary did not cite specific countries or otherwise elaborate.
On the home front, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, yesterday urged Congress to move quickly to pass the Bush administration's proposed laws that would give law-enforcement officials broader powers in the domestic fight against terrorism.
Appearing on another American television program (CBS's "Face the Nation"), Ashcroft said there is a likelihood of further terrorist attacks in the U.S. He said the new laws could help prevent further bloodshed. He gave no specific evidence.
Last week, Ashcroft appeared before both the Senate and House of Representatives' Judiciary committees to urge passage of the legislative package. He said current law does not properly cover the ability of law-enforcement officials to intercept incriminating conversations of terrorists who have the latest communications technology at their disposal.
But Congress has been reluctant to move quickly on the legislation. Some say certain elements of the package may interfere with the civil liberties of Americans. Members of the committees, which have jurisdiction over such proposed laws, say it would be better to move slowly and carefully to ensure that citizens' freedoms are protected.