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Afghanistan: Pakistani Delegation Meets With Taliban

Islamabad, 17 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistani officials began talks with Taliban leaders in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar today. The military intelligence chiefs and foreign ministry officials from Pakistan are trying to persuade Taliban officials to hand over Saudi-born terror suspect Osama bin Laden.

U.S. President George W. Bush says bin Laden is the prime suspect in terrorist attacks last week in New York and Washington. The Taliban is believed to be sheltering bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Taliban officials have said they will not hand him over. The Afghan Islamic Press said the Pakistani delegation in Kandahar first met with the Taliban's foreign minister and would meet spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar later in the day.

A Pakistani official said yesterday the delegation planned to give the ruling Taliban an ultimatum to either hand over bin Laden or risk a massive international retaliatory assault.

Pakistan is one of only three countries which recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday that U.S. officials will go to Pakistan in the "next several days" to discuss Pakistan's decision to help the U.S. in its fight against terrorism.

Powell said Pakistan has been "very forthcoming" in its offer to help. Bush said the U.S. will be working with many countries in its campaign against terror -- including those who until recent years might not have been as cooperative as they are today.

He specifically cited Russia, Pakistan, and India. Reports from the United States say:

President George W. Bush says the terrorists who attacked New York and Washington last week have "roused a mighty giant."

He made the remark yesterday after returning to the White House in Washington. Bush told Americans to brace for a long fight against terrorism to rid the world of what he called "evildoers."

He also called on Americans to be more alert to more possible attacks from terrorists.

Bush returned to Washington from Camp David in Maryland, where he had talks with advisers on possible military retaliation for the attacks.

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said last night the official number of people missing as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center now stands at 4,957.

He also said that 190 victims have been confirmed dead. Earlier yesterday, Giuliani said 5,097 were missing. He suggested the number was revised downward because some people had been counted twice.

In other developments: The Justice Department said that the cockpit voice recorder from the airliner that struck the Pentagon was "unusable" because it had been damaged. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined 5,000 people packed inside and outside Saint Patrick's Cathedral to remember the victims of the attacks.