By ANNE GEARAN
The Associated Press
Friday, August 19, 2005; 10:40 AM
WASHINGTON -- A year before the Sept. 11 attacks, a U.S. diplomat assured a top official of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime that international sanctions on that country would be lifted if it expelled Osama bin Laden, newly declassified documents show.
A State Department memo dated September 2000 also said the United States did not seek to topple the Taliban despite its record of human rights abuses.
The memo was among documents obtained by the National Security Archive, a private research group based at George Washington University, under a Freedom of Information Act request. The group posted the documents on its Web site Thursday.
"The ambassador added that the U.S. was not against the Taliban, per se," and "was not out to destroy the Taliban," Ambassador William B. Milam wrote in the secret cable to Washington. Milam told the Taliban official, whose name is excised from the declassified document, that bin Laden was the main impediment to better relations between the Taliban and the United States.
"If the U.S. and the Taliban could get past bin Laden, we would have a different kind of relationship," Milam said he told the official.
At the time, Washington had no formal diplomatic relations with Afghanistan because concerns over human rights and other abuses by the militant Islamist Taliban regime.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Bush administration has no comment on the meeting, which took place before President Bush took office.
In his 2000 diplomatic cable, Milam told his bosses that the Taliban official had adopted a "far less obstreperous" tone than usually heard from the Taliban and suggested that the United States do some small favor for Afghanistan to show good will.
The meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, produced no promise from the Taliban to turn over bin Laden, and it is not clear from the material released Thursday what the Clinton administration did next.
Other documents released by the National Security Archive on Thursday chart several years of unsuccessful U.S. attempts to drive bin Laden out of Afghanistan.
At the time of Milam's cable, the United States knew that bin Laden was living under Taliban protection along the Afghan-Pakistani border and running his al-Qaida terror network from Afghanistan. U.S. diplomats had periodic contact with the Taliban to urge his ouster.
The United States had accused bin Laden of orchestrating two embassy bombings that killed Americans in East Africa, but neither he nor his terror network were the household names they became after the jetliner attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.
Shortly after the attacks, U.S. forces helped the Afghan opposition Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban government and hunt down its leaders. The Bush administration's goal was twofold: Rout bin Laden's protectors and capture bin Laden himself.
Nearly four years after the invasion, a 21,000-member U.S.-led coalition force remains to fight Taliban remnants and keep order despite the emergence of a new U.S.-allied government. Bin Laden is still presumed to be hiding in the same border region.
A surge of violence since winter has killed about 1,000 people _ 59 American soldiers among them. Militants have stepped up assaults in the south and east trying to sabotage the country's U.S.-backed recovery.
On the Net:
National Security Archive: http://www.nsarchive.org/