The United States, backed by Russia, introduced a draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council today to impose an air embargo and financial sanctions on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban unless it surrenders Saudi militant and accused terrorist Osama bin Laden.
If the resolution is approved, it will be the first time that the United Nations has used sanctions to pursue a suspected terrorist since 1992, when the Security Council punished Libya for harboring suspects in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The proposal also represents an unusual instance of close cooperation between the United States and Russia, which have clashed bitterly over U.N. policy from Iraq to Kosovo but see eye-to-eye on the Taliban.
Russia, now battling Islamic rebels in Chechnya and Dagestan, views the extremist Islamic government in Afghanistan as a threat to its southern underbelly, where many Muslims live. In recent weeks, Moscow has been rife with rumors that bin Laden may have had a hand in a series of bomb attacks in Russia.
The United States, meanwhile, objects to human rights violations in Afghanistan, particularly the denial of equal education, employment and medical care to women. The U.S. State Department today named the Taliban as one of seven political entities--along with China, Iran, Iraq, Burma, Serbia and Sudan--responsible for "particularly severe" violations of religious freedom.
U.S. and European diplomats said there was no evident opposition in the Security Council to the resolution against the Taliban. Even China, which traditionally objects to the use of economic sanctions, signaled that it could support them if they are carefully targeted.
"We are not for sanctions," said Chen Ranfeng, a spokesman for the Chinese mission to the United Nations. But "when sanctions have to be imposed, we should try to limit the negative impact."
The U.S. effort comes less than two months after President Clinton imposed a unilateral embargo on the Taliban's Ariana Airline in response to Afghanistan's sheltering of bin Laden, who has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he orchestrated the August 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, killing at least 224 people.
A federal judge in Manhattan has set a Sept. 5, 2000, date for the trial of bin Laden and at least 16 co-defendants, several of whom are already in custody in the United States and Britain.
In recent weeks, the United States has sought to broaden the campaign to capture bin Laden and his co-defendants, enlisting the aid of key foreign powers. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, in New York for the U.N. General Assembly last month, discussed the case with the foreign ministers of Russia and India.
The Taliban have said they will hand over bin Laden only if the United States supplies hard proof that he committed terrorism. Afghan authorities say a copy of the federal indictment, furnished by the U.S. government, is not convincing. A spokesman for the Taliban, Noorullah Zadran, declined today to comment on the sanctions resolution.
The U.S. draft instructs the Taliban to "turn over Osama bin Laden without further delay" to a country that is prepared to "ensure that he is expeditiously brought to justice." The document also calls on the Taliban to "renounce the provision of sanctuary and training for international terrorists."
The proposed sanctions would bar aircraft owned, leased or operated by the Taliban from landing outside Afghanistan. They would also freeze the Taliban's foreign bank accounts and property.
The Security Council could make exceptions on a case-by-case basis for humanitarian purposes. It would also set up an office to monitor the implementation of the sanctions. If the Taliban refuses to comply, it could face even harsher sanctions, according to the U.S. draft.