Jackson still undecided on trip to Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson maintained Thursday afternoon that he has not made a decision regarding an invitation by the Taliban government to come to Afghanistan to negotiate a peace deal.
Jackson said there are two separate issues to consider -- the Taliban's request for his diplomatic intervention and the detainment of eight Christians in Afghanistan. "We have committed to help in any way to help gain their release," said Jackson.
But a senior Bush administration official has said a visit by Jackson would not be "helpful." Jackson avoided answering whether he would go to the country in defiance of the White House, saying only, "They have not done that, and they will not."
The father of a U.S. aid worker being held by the Taliban also is asking for Jackson's help. And Jackson said he is considering another request from parents of two Christian aid workers to help secure their daughters' release, along with six other detained Western aid workers held by the Taliban.
A senior Bush administration official said such a trip would not win White House support.
"His heart is in the right place, but we need to be honest with him," the official said. "This would not be helpful. It would not be a good development for him to step onto the field right now. ... We will try through diplomatic means today to try to discourage him from doing so. Our fear is it could do potential damage to some of the pieces we have so carefully put in place here."
Jackson told CNN that his actions were "not in defiance of our government."
"When this call came, I immediately called Secretary of State (Colin) Powell. I called Dr. Condoleezza Rice," Jackson said. "If we are able to appeal to the Taliban to choose ... the world court and to release (Osama) bin Laden, rather than seeing more innocent people killed, that must be seen as a good thing."
The United States is preparing possible military operations against Afghanistan because the Taliban have refused to hand over accused terrorist bin Laden, whom President Bush has called the prime suspect in the September 11 attacks against the United States.
'Peace is difficult'
Jackson also said he has not made a travel decision, noting that he has a right to go to Pakistan. The U.S. civil rights leader was given the invitation by a Taliban representative.
"We would like to see this situation resolved in a way that preserves the dignity and integrity of all sides," said the invitation, which was released by Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
"War and bloodshed are easy, but peace is difficult. We welcome any delegation that comes to us in the interest of resolving this matter and avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe that would befall the people of Afghanistan as a result of military strikes."
John Mercer, whose 24-year-old daughter is in Taliban custody, asked for Jackson's help in securing her release.
"I would like the Rev. Jackson to do whatever he can to effect a humanitarian release of all eight detainees currently in Kabul," Mercer told CNN from Islamabad, Pakistan. "I am here as Heather's father. Heather's mother is here, the mother of Dayna Curry is here, and we are seeking any approach that might be effective in seeking her release."
In 1999, Jackson met with then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to discuss the release of three captured U.S. soldiers. They were freed days later.
He also secured the release of captured Navy Lt. Robert Goodman from Syria in 1984 as well as the release of 48 Cuban and Cuban-American prisoners in 1987. He was the first American to bring hostages out of Kuwait and Iraq in 1990.
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