U.S. considers reopening its long-closed embassy in Afghanistan

Saturday, December 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A decision to reopen the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, shuttered for 12 years, will depend on the security situation and other factors, the State Department says.

With the Taliban no longer in control of Kabul, department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday the Bush administration is actively considering the reopening of the embassy.

U.S. officials will take into account the condition of the embassy, availability of personnel and progress toward the establishment of an interim administration in Kabul.

De facto control of Kabul is in the hands of the northern alliance, which fought Taliban rule for five years.

Talks on forming an interim administration are taking place at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Germany among the northern alliance and other Afghan factions.

``We look forward to an opportunity to establish a working relationship with the interim administration, whatever new government they decide to establish,'' Boucher said.

Afghan nationals employed by the State Department have been taking care of the embassy since it was closed in 1989 amid factional fighting following the withdrawal of Soviet forces.

Security will continue to be a concern once the embassy reopens, taking into account the hostility toward the United States on the part of Afghans sympathetic to the deposed regime.

The main chancery building has been sealed shut since 1989. Mobs attacked the building after U.S. air strikes began in early October. One concern is the possibility of unexploded ordnance on the embassy grounds.

Given the need for embassy renovation, the first U.S. diplomats assigned to Kabul may have to rent a building or operate out of a hotel, an official said.

Once conditions permit, the United States is expected to have a substantial presence in Afghanistan. The administration hopes to join with other countries and international financial institutions in a long-term reconstruction effort. The country has been battered by war for a generation.

During the Taliban era, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan were the only countries with diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. All were shut down under international pressure after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Taliban was forced out of Kabul on Nov. 13.

The last American ambassador to serve in Afghanistan was Adolph Dubs, who was killed in 1979 in a shootout in Kabul after being kidnapped by Afghan Muslim extremists.

Dubs was seized while being driven to the U.S. Embassy. He was taken to a hotel room by four armed men who demanded the release of men they described as Muslim religious figures being held by the Afghan government. They threatened to kill Dubs unless their demands were met.

Government security stormed the building. Dubs was killed in the crossfire, although it was unclear if he was deliberately targeted.

The State Department said at the time that the Afghan government ignored U.S. pleas to be patient and to find a way to secure Dubs' release without force.