Jesse Jackson Considers Taliban Peace Mission
US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said Thursday he had no immediate plans to embark on a peace mission to Afghanistan's Taliban rulers as US authorities press the regime for the hand-over of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
"I do not want to go. I have no plans to go," Jackson told reporters after a Taliban representative in Islamabad said that the former US presidential hopeful would be welcome in Afghanistan.
Jackson, who said he was contacted Wednesday by Taliban officials and invited to travel to neighboring Pakistan to act as an intermediary in the current crisis, did not rule out a role at a later stage.
Jackson said he would be phoning his contacts in the Pakistani capital Islamabad later Thursday to respond to their overture.
"The content of the dialogue will determine the worth of the mission," he said.
The Taliban denied they had issued an invitation to Jackson but said they would welcome his offer to travel to Afghanistan.
"We have not invited him but he offered to mediate and our leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has accepted this offer," said Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef, speaking in Islamabad to the Afghan Islamic Press.
"He has ordered the authorities to extend cooperation if Jesse Jackson visits Afghanistan. We will have no objection."
But Jackson said that Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had spoken to him twice about the trip, had made it very clear what the ground rules for such a mission would be.
"He asked if I talked with them again to convey to them what the prerequisites are and that's what we intend to do," Jackson said.
Jackson did not spell out the US demands beyond what the Bush administration has already done: the unconditional surrender of Bin Laden.
Powell said that he had spoken to Jackson on Wednesday night and Thursday morning and said he had made Jackson "fully aware of the US position."
"And that is, the Taliban regime knows what it must do and should do with respect to the presence of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and also with respect to the bases and facilities in Afghanistan," he said.
"So Reverend Jackson is fully aware of our position and the strength of our position. And whether he does or does not accept an invitation, whether one has been offered or not -- and there seems to be some confusion about that -- is up to Reverend Jackson. But we have nothing to negotiate. They know what our position is."
US authorities believe the 19 hijackers who slammed fuel-laden planes into New York's World Trade Center and into the Pentagon outside Washington on September 11, were connected to Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization.
They have pledged to bring the Saudi-born Islamic militant to justice.
Powell said that Jackson was "free to travel" but added that he could not see "what purpose would be served right now, since the position of the United States and the international community is quite clear."
Jackson, a 59-year-old sometime international troubleshooter, cautioned against a speedy military solution to the problem.
"We don't have the capacity to unilaterally fight this war.
"We need a multilateral long-term coalition," he averred.
And he suggested that divisions within the hard-line Islamic Taliban regime -- what he called a lack of "unanimity" in the Taliban -- buttressed the argument for a go-slow approach.
"There are some who want to join the liberal coalition and some who don't," he said.
"We hope those forces of reason ... chose to join the coalition that offers shared security and not try to harbor those who play the role of violence” -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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