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Taliban ‘open’ bin Laden deal

The Taliban’s U.N. representatives say Afghanistan is “getting ready for sanctions” but is “still open to negotiations” with the United States on the issue of Osama bin Laden.
/ Source: NBC News producer

The Taliban’s U.N. representatives say Afghanistan is “getting ready for sanctions” but is “still open to negotiations” with the United States on the issue of Osama bin Laden. Moreover, the militant Islamic group that rules most of Afghanistan expressed its continued desire that the accused terrorist leave the country and quickly, a request U.S. officials are not sure is sincere.

NOORALLUH ZADRAN, deputy U.N. ambassador-designate, tells NBC News that the Taliban still has no intention of turning bin Laden over to the United States or any other country for trial on charges he masterminded the deaths of 260 people in last year’s embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania.


Instead, the Taliban want a compromise under which they would arrange for bin Laden’s departure to a third country whose identity would be kept secret by the Taliban. Although the Taliban control 23 of the country’s 24 provinces, their opposition in the north retain the U.N. seat. While the Taliban wait for a U.N. decision on seating them, they rent an office in Flushing, Queens.

“We are not the police,” said Zadran, who said his last meeting with U.S. officials was “last week.”

“We want this mess out of our country. We have had it with this guy. We want to deal with our other problems. But he stood with us during hard times, just like the United States did!”

Bin Laden fought with the Afghan resistance from 1979 through 1989, when the Soviet forces left the country. He and 400 of his fighters returned to the country in 1996 after the U.S. pressured Sudan to ask him to leave that country. The U.S. has charged that bin Laden directed the embassy bombings from his hideout in Afghanistan, both initiating and financing the operation through his al Qaeda network. U.S. officials also say Bin Laden has been training Taliban fighters in their operations against the remaining opposition, making him a valuable ally.


The U.S. is trying to pressure the Taliban, endorsing UN sanctions that will go into effect next Monday unless bin Laden is turned over. The U.S. has hinted that it would be willing to see bin Laden sent to a third country from trial.

“Our interest is getting him out,” said Zadran. “You’re a superpower. You can find him once he has left. No one can hide from you.”

U.S. officials tell NBC News that bin Laden’s recent, well-publicized offer to leave Afghanistan was orchestrated by him and Taliban leader Mullah Muhammed Omar as a compromise solution to the UN demand that the Taliban turn him over for trial. However, neither the U.S. nor the UN believed the offer was sincere, with one official noting the resolution requires him “to be turned over, not turned loose.”

They note that bin Laden still has value to the Taliban, that his al Qaeda terrorist group trains Taliban fighters in their battle with the opposition in the north. Also, the U.S. believes that if the Taliban relented and turned bin Laden over to the U.S., it would face internal dissent.


They believe if bin Laden did leave Afghanistan of his own free will at some point, there are only about five countries where he would be welcomed: Chechnya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq. One senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said the list is not based on any intelligence, but instead on analysis of where he could go, not where he is planning to go.

Zadran agreed with the list of five nations. “Our guess is the same thing. We want him to leave. There is enough terror in this world,” he said.

Zadran added that the U.S. has rejected several other offers to end the stalemate, one using the Organization of Islamic Countries as a mediator.

U.S. officials saw the offer as stalling for time, explaining the offer was more nebulous that what the Taliban claimed. One senior administration official told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that one of their recent counterproposals to the Department of State was “let’s set up an advisory group of senior Muslim clerics to interpret the law for how to treat ‘visitors.’”

U.S. officials replied that that was a non-starter.

Even with sanctions, says Zadran, the Taliban will continue to “quarantine” Bin Laden. “That is a much better solution, believe me,” he added.

Robert Windrem is an NBC News investigative producer based in New York.