Jesse Jackson leaning toward declining Taliban invitation to mediate

Friday, September 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) _ Jesse Jackson said Friday he is leaning against accepting an invitation from Afghanistan to mediate its dispute with America, despite new overtures from the ruling Taliban militia.

Jackson said he received a letter Friday from the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan inviting him to meet with high-ranking Taliban officials.

The letter ``does not increase my inclination to go,'' said the civil rights leader and former presidential candidate.

Jackson added that he forwarded the letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Jackson also spoke with Bush national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. Fleischer declined to say whether the president objects to Jackson going to Afghanistan.

``The United States government is not going to negotiate or have any discussion with the Taliban,'' Fleischer said. However, he added, Jackson can be ``very helpful in reminding the world about the importance of fighting terrorism.''

The letter from Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef to Jackson read: ``In the current, critical situation, there's more need for prudence, sagacity and patience to solve issues between Afghanistan and America through peaceful means, and we welcome your mediation to meet high-ranking Afghan government officials in Afghanistan.''

Jackson said any visit to Afghanistan would be for two purposes: to ask for the release of eight Christians being held in prison there and to ask the Taliban to turn over the suspected terrorists so they could face an international court.

On Wednesday, Jackson said the Taliban had invited him to lead a ``peace delegation'' to the region, and he repeated Friday that the Taliban had reached out to him. Later, the Taliban said it was Jackson who made the first contact.

Powell has said that Jackson is free to travel but that he does not think such a trip would accomplish anything.