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Pakistani Delegation Could Leave for Afghanistan Monday - 2001-09-16

Pakistan is sending an official delegation to Afghanistan for talks with the ruling Taleban movement, which is sheltering Islamic militant Osama bin Laden. The delegation may ask the Taleban to surrender the man the U.S. administration has identified as a prime suspect in Tuesday's terror attacks on the United States.

Government spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi says the delegation is going to the southern Afghan city, Kandahar, as early as Monday. He would not disclose the purpose of the visit. But sources in the Pakistani government say the delegation will demand the Taleban expel Osama bin Laden within three days to avoid a massive retaliatory assault against Afghanistan.

President Bush has named Osama bin Laden as a prime suspect in last week's terror attacks on New York and Washington, and has promised a "comprehensive" assault on terrorism.

The Taleban insists the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden is innocent, and that it will continue to protect him as a guest of the country. Taleban leaders have renewed a warning of retaliation if any neighboring country helps the United States in the event of an attack on their country.

Neighboring Pakistan has agreed to cooperate with the United States in responding to the devastating terror strikes on U.S. buildings.

The Pakistani leadership has yet to specify what steps it will take in case Washington decides to attack targets in Afghanistan. Pakistan's foreign minister told reporters Saturday that his country will not participate in any international military operation outside its borders. The United States is reported to have asked Pakistan to allow the use of its airspace, close its border with Afghanistan and cut off fuel supplies to the Taleban.

Osama bin Laden, meanwhile, has again denied involvement in the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. In a statement relayed to a Pakistan based Afghan news agency, Afghan Islamic Press, on Sunday, he says he is loyal to Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who does not allow him to do such things from Afghanistan.