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  Bush Rejects Taliban Bin Laden Offer

By Kathy Gannon
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001; 1:50 p.m. EDT

JALALABAD, Afghanistan –– A senior Taliban leader said Sunday that the Islamic militia would be willing to hand over Osama bin Laden to a third country if the United States halts the bombing of Afghanistan and provides evidence against him.

President Bush quickly rejected the offer.

"The president has been very clear, there will be no negotiations," White House spokeswoman Anne Womack said. Washington has repeatedly rejected any negotiations or conditions on its demands that the Taliban surrender bin Laden and his al-Qaida terror network.

The statement by Deputy Prime Minister Haji Abdul Kabir did not break new ground. But its timing and the fact it was made to foreign reporters by such a senior figure – the Taliban's third most powerful figure – could indicate the movement was desperate for a way out of the crisis after more than a week of punishing airstrikes.

Kabir said that if the United States gave evidence bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and halted the bombing, "we would be ready to hand him over to a third country" – a country, he added, that would never "come under pressure from the United States."

"If America were to step back from the current policy, then we could negotiate," he said. "Then we could discuss which third country."

Before the start of the air campaign, the Taliban had demanded evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the attack and had offered to try him before an Islamic court inside Afghanistan – proposals that the United States promptly rejected.

Kabir's offer came a day after the Taliban's supreme leader rebuffed a "second chance" given by Bush for the Islamic militia to surrender bin Laden to the United States. In a blistering statement, Mullah Mohammed Omar said there was no move to "hand over anyone" and accused the United States of killing Afghans.

The United States launched the airstrikes Oct. 7 after weeks of pressing the Taliban to give up bin Laden unconditionally.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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