Taleban authorities in Afghanistan say calls to surrender alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden are a "pretext" to destroy Taleban rule in Afghanistan. About 1,000 Afghan Muslim clerics have gathered in Kabul for a meeting to discuss the fate of Osama bin Laden, who is wanted by the United States for his alleged role in the attacks on New York and Washington.

In a defiant speech read out to the clerics, the Taleban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, said the enemies of Afghanistan view the Taleban Islamic system as a thorn in their eye and are seeking to finish it off.

In his speech to the gathering of the shura (council), Mullah Omar said Osama bin Laden is just the latest "pretext" being used by the enemies of the Taleban to destroy their rule. Mullah Omar said he wished to assure the United States and the rest of the world that Osama bin Laden had not used Afghan territory as a base for attacking anyone. However, the reclusive Taleban leader also repeated his offer of talks with the United States to settle all outstanding issues.

President Bush rejected the call for talks, saying now is the time to act.

Mullah Omar also called on the United States to exercise patience and to provide proof of who was behind the attacks that killed more than 5,000 people. President Bush says Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect in the attacks, and he has indicated he wants the Saudi fugitive taken dead or alive.

Mullah Omar's comments are the first he has made since he met with a senior Pakistani delegation. Speaking in Islamabad, Riaz Mohammed Khan, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman said the delegation made every effort to convey the seriousness of the situation Afghanistan faces.

"The delegation impressed upon the Afghan leadership the gravity of the situation, and what the international community expected from the Afghanistan government and leadership," Mr. Khan said. "We only hope that the Afghan leadership is able to take the right decisions which are in the best interests of the Afghan people."

Meanwhile, leaders of 35 Pakistan Islamic organizations said on Wednesday they will obey any call for a jihad (holy war) against the United States made by the clerics meeting in Kabul. Maulana Sami-ul Haq, who heads a grouping of pro-Taleban Islamic groups, also warned Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf against backing any campaign by the United States and its allies to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.