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US Lawmakers Return from Fact-Finding Trip


A delegation of bipartisan U.S. lawmakers has just returned from a brief trip to Russia, Turkey and Italy, where they met with officials to discuss cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

The focus of the trip was a stop in Rome, where they met with exiled Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah and members of the Northern Alliance - the armed resistance force fighting Taleban rule in Afghanistan. In a briefing for reporters Tuesday, the lawmakers expressed their support for aiding the Afghan resistance to help topple Taleban rule.

The lawmakers said members of the Afghan opposition are convinced that with U.S. assistance, they can remove Taleban rulers from power.

The Taleban is believed to be harboring suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden - whom the United States says was behind last month's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The leader of the Congressional delegation, Republican Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, expressed support for the Afghan resistance. "They are not asking for American ground troops," he said. "They are asking for us to assist them in taking back their homeland. We assured them that through our President we would do anything that we could in the Congress to provide that support, that this was not a battle against any one religion, nor was it a battle against the Arab people, but that we were there to support the people of Afghanistan."

Another member of the delegation, Democratic Congressman Bob Clement of Tennessee, said members of the Northern Alliance were confident they could oust the Taleban in a short period of time. He said, "They honestly feel that if they have the equipment, and they have the help and the support that within 30 days, the Taleban can fall."

Lawmakers said exiled Afghan King Zahir Shah expressed his willingness to return to his homeland to help unify the country. They said the exiled monarch briefed them on his proposal to call a "grand assembly" of tribal leaders to create a transitional government and new constitution, hold elections and begin economic reconstruction.

During their European tour, lawmakers also stopped in Moscow, where they met with members of the Russian Duma and discussed a proposal to create a joint legislative task force to crackdown on terrorism.

Lawmakers also visited Ankara, Turkey, where they thanked officials for support for the fight against terrorism.

Turkey has offered the United States use of its airspace and airports as Washington considers a military response to last month's terrorist attacks. Ankara has also offered to provide Washington with intelligence on Afghanistan.

Congressman Weldon suggested the United States should forgive Turkey's $5 billon military debt as a way to show its appreciation for Ankara's support. He also suggested $20 million in development assistance to a post-Taleban Afghanistan be funneled through Turkey.

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