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No negotiations, U.S. tells Taliban



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is sticking to its position that there will be no negotiations with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban for the handover of militant leader Osama bin Laden.

"We've made clear what needs to be done with him, and it's time for them to act," a Bush administration official told CNN Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It's not time for negotiations," the official said.

"There is ample proof that Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network were behind previous acts of terrorism and every indication is that they are responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11."

The comments follow an announcement from a senior Taliban official that his government knows the whereabouts of militant leader Osama bin Laden and has him under their control.

In an interview with CNN Sunday, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, said the exiled Saudi millionaire was under close observation and his movements had been restricted.

"Wherever he goes, there are people assigned to him, and he cannot move around without their permission," Zaeef said.

'We know where he is'

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"He's under the control of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and only security people ... know where he is."

"We have said that we don't know exactly where he is. That doesn't mean that we're not aware of his whereabouts," he said. "The location is shifting all the time, but we know where he is."

He added that bin Laden would not be turned over to the U.S. unconditionally, and said the Taliban would need to see firm evidence of bin Laden's guilt before they would even consider any handover.

He said that only an Afghan court can decide whether to turn him over to the U.S. or try him within Afghanistan itself.

Reacting to Zaeef's comments, U.S. officials appearing on the Sunday political talk shows reiterated their position that the Taliban had been made well aware of the administration's demands and it was time for them to act.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press", Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he saw "no reason to believe" anything Taliban officials said on bin Laden's whereabouts.

"It was just a few days ago that they said they didn't know where he was," he said.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington there have been several differing reports of bin Laden's whereabouts, some saying he had left Afghanistan.

Initially, Taliban officials said they did not know where bin Laden was.

Then last week they said they had been able to deliver to him a message from the Grand Islamic Council -- a body of some 600 senior Muslim clerics -- requesting that he leave Afghanistan voluntarily.

Hopes dim

Rumsfeld said that even if the Taliban ambassador's statement was true he doubted there would be any significant change of policy on bin Laden's surrender.

"They've been rather adamant that they wouldn't do anything about it," he said.

His comments echoed those of Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who said hope was "very dim" for bin Laden's extradition.

"One can carry on engaging with [the Taliban], and there is a little bit of flexibility being shown," Musharraf said in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "But the signals that have come out are certainly not very encouraging."

The U.S. has warned the Taliban that they face military action if they refuse to hand over bin Laden and shut down all terrorist groups it says are using Afghanistan as a base.

Officials have also rejected Taliban demands that the U.S. provide them with proof of bin Laden's guilt.

Speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer Sunday, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said bin Laden had already has been indicted for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.

'Current threat'

"This is not a situation where the Taliban sits in ignorance and says, 'We've got him but we think he's innocent.' This is a time for them to say, 'Yes, we'll deliver him to you, and yes, we'll deliver his network, and we'll make it available, and we'll expose it,'" Ashcroft said.

"This network of terrorism is a threat. It's a current threat to the United States as well as the rest of the world."

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," White House chief of staff Andrew Card stuck to the Bush administration's position that there would be no talks with the Taliban.

"We've told the Taliban government what they should be doing," he said.

"They've got to turn not only Osama bin Laden over but all of the operatives of the al Qaeda organization."

Asked what would happen if the Taliban regime does not comply with U.S. demands, Ashcroft replied, "Well, obviously, the United States is going to respond."

-- CNN Correspondents Major Garrett and Tom Mintier contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 


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