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US Cool to Amnesty for Taliban Leader


The Bush administration Monday signaled opposition to an offer by Afghan President Hamid Karzai of safe-passage to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, if he entered peace talks with the Kabul government. The State Department said the United States will not negotiate with the Taliban. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are not categorically rejecting the idea of dialogue between the Kabul government and the Taliban's top leadership.

But the State Department says it would be hard to imagine the circumstances under which U.S. troops in Afghanistan would give Mullah Omar safe passage.

The Taliban leader was driven from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001, after the Islamic movement refused to turn over Osama Bin Laden in the wake of al-Qaida attacks in New York and Washington.

Mullah Omar, believed to be in hiding in western Pakistan, is high on the U.S. list of most-wanted terrorist figures and is subject to a $10 million State Department reward for his capture.

In comments Sunday in Kabul, President Karzai said if the reclusive Taliban leader is willing to come to Afghanistan to negotiate peace, he would go to any length to provide him security.

Mr. Karzai suggested that if international forces now in Afghanistan object to the idea, they can either remove him from office or leave the country.

Reacting the overture, officials at both the White House and State Department said political reconciliation in Afghanistan is desirable, but that there is no sign the Taliban is ready to renounce violence or otherwise meet terms for dialogue with the government.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said in the absence of profound changes in the Taliban doctrine, the war against the radical movement will go on:

"We're going after the Taliban and that includes Mullah Omar, as evidenced by the Rewards for Justice program," he said. "There's no evidence that the Taliban is turning away from violence. All of that said, President Karzai insists that there needs to be reconciliation, a political reconciliation within Afghanistan. We have seen in other places, like Iraq for example, that political reconciliation is important."

Senior U.S. officials, including key military commanders, have recently spoken about the possibility of dialogue with so-called reconcilable elements of the Taliban, a category that implicitly does not include Mullah Omar.

President Karzai, in his remarks Sunday, said his government is willing to talk with any insurgent faction that agrees to accept and respect the Afghan constitution.

But he said talks with groups linked to al-Qaeda are out of the question, and that there is a long way to go before a safety guarantee for Mullah Omar would be a practical issue.