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Afghanistan: Taliban Appeals Again For Talks With U.S.

Prague, 3 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan says Afghanistan's ruling Taliban wants negotiations, not war, with the United States. Abdul Salaam Zaeef made the remark today in an interview with CNN.

Zaeef called again on the U.S. to give proof that suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden is involved in last month's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

He urged the U.S. and its allies to open discussions concerning bin Laden.

Zaeef said that if bin Laden is involved, "this is terrorist action." But he said the Taliban needs proof. They say they will not hand him over without the proof.

U.S. President George W. Bush said yesterday there will be no negotiations with the Taliban on demands to surrender bin Laden and to close down terrorist bases in Afghanistan.

Bush said the U.S. will decide on its own, and in its own time, whether the Taliban has met its demands. Bush said there is no timetable for possible U.S. strikes on Afghanistan.

"There is no timetable for the Taliban, just like there are no negotiations. I have said that the Taliban must turn over the Al-Qaeda organization living within Afghanistan, and must destroy the terrorist camps. And they must do so, otherwise there will be a consequence."

Also, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the Taliban faces military attack if they continue refusing to surrender bin Laden.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said "conclusive" evidence was presented to the alliance that links bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network to the attacks. NATO also formally invoked its mutual defense clause.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld left Washington early today on a four-nation mission to boost support for the U.S. fight against terrorism.

Rumsfeld will have military talks with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, and Uzbekistan. He suggested yesterday the talks will include activities by the U.S. military in the region.

The U.S. has been mobilizing its forces ahead of a possible strike on Afghanistan. The country's ruling Taliban says suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden is under its protection.

Rumsfeld said in Washington last night that he hopes his first meeting with Uzbek leaders will be useful. Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld also said he hopes to meet with U.S. troops on joint exercises in Egypt.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Rumsfeld's mission will be information-sharing and consultation with friends.

U.S. officials say backing for the antiterrorism campaign in Muslim countries is considered important to counter claims by bin Laden supporters that the United States is waging war against Islam.

Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah says it is receiving new military aid from Iran and Russia in its battle against the ruling Taliban.

Abdullah also told reporters today that Alliance officials and commanders have been in contact with U.S. officials since the 11 September attacks on the United States.

Abdullah said he himself had met with U.S. officials in the past several days to discuss coordinating efforts to "eradicate terrorism from Afghanistan."