Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


8,9,11Today's meeting with Assistant Secretary Inderfurth and Taliban Repersentative Abdul Hakeem Mujahid
10Whereabouts and Expulsion of Usama bin Laden
9US Policy reiterated on harboring of terrorists
9Honoring Human Rights Norms
11US assistance to Afghan Earthquake Victims

DPB #21
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 1999, 1:50 P.M.


QUESTION: New subject - I don't know - any more on Kosovo? Okay, great. Can you tell us what 's going to happen at today's meeting between Assistant Secretary Inderfurth and the representative of the Taliban?

MR. FOLEY: Yes, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Karl Inderfurth will meet this afternoon in the State Department with Mr. Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, who is a Taliban representative based in New York City. We have regular meetings with representatives of all Afghan factions, including the Taliban.

Now, this specific meeting today is at the request of the United States to follow up on Mr. Inderfurth's meetings in Islamabad on February 3 with the Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Jalil. Mr. Inderfurth will be seeking further information in this meeting today on the whereabouts of Usama bin Laden, and he will reiterate the strong message that he delivered in Islamabad that bin Laden must be brought to justice for his crimes.

The presence of bin Laden in Afghanistan has been detrimental to the interests of the Afghan people and poses a major obstacle to the Taliban in its desire to gain greater international acceptance. Mr. Inderfurth will be raising other issues. I can go through them with you, including the need for cooperation on the Taliban's part with UN Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi's ongoing efforts to help reach a political resolution of the Afghan conflict; the need for the Taliban to honor internationally accepted human rights norms, including, in particular, the rights of women and girls. He'll also be raising the need to end poppy production and narcotics trafficking in the areas occupied in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Mr. Inderfurth will further inform the Taliban that the United States has proclaimed a disaster in Afghanistan following the earthquakes there during the past week and will be providing humanitarian relief assistance.

QUESTION: Are you saying that bin Laden is still in Afghanistan?

MR. FOLEY: We have no information on his current whereabouts. But given some of the press reporting that came out of Afghanistan and the region over the weekend, we felt it was necessary to ask the Taliban directly what they knew about his whereabouts. His whereabouts have been shrouded in some mystery and confusion over the last days, and we're looking to see if the Taliban can shed some light on his whereabouts.

We do not have information that he is not in Afghanistan. We believe that it is the responsibility of the Taliban inside Afghanistan to ensure that he is expelled from Afghanistan and brought to justice for the horrible, unspeakable crimes against civilians that he has committed.

QUESTION: Follow-up, Jim. I mean, in what way is US policy being reiterated to the Taliban that military action could be used to deal with any terrorist or any person who harbors terrorists?

MR. FOLEY: Well, our understanding, without getting into any sort of security details, but I think it's not a secret that bin Laden continues to threaten Americans, American civilians, American interests. Therefore, his presence anywhere but in the hands of justice is unacceptable to the United States. As President Clinton indicated in August, at the time of our military action against bin Laden's facilities in Afghanistan, we, the United States, reserve the right to act either in anticipation of to prevent terrorist attacks or in retaliation against terrorist attacks. I think the President indicated that as far as we're concerned, there will be no sanctuary for terrorists.

QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the meeting that ran late yesterday on the Palestinians and the US?


QUESTION: In this meeting that Inderfurth is going to hold, is Pakistan Embassy invited as an observer status or something?

MR. FOLEY: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: And what exactly is the US expecting out of Pakistan in these negotiations? I mean, is there anything in particular that the US wants Pakistan to help out with?

MR. FOLEY: Well, to the extent that Pakistan may have influence inside Afghanistan, we always urge our Pakistani friends to exercise that influence in the interests of our common interests against terrorists.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - to what you said earlier, but if bin Laden is handed over by the Taliban, is the US leaning towards recognizing the Taliban?

MR. FOLEY: Our policy has been unchanged concerning Afghanistan; it remains unchanged, which is that we don't recognize any particular faction as the official, legitimate government of Afghanistan. We understand the Taliban exercises some control and presence over and throughout much of Afghanistan. But we believe that the question of the constitution of a legitimate government that would be recognized by the United States and the international community has yet to be decided.

It has to be decided on the basis of working with Secretary General's representative, Mr. Brahimi, on the basis of reconciliation, dialogue, discussion among the parties, as a predicate to the constitution of a broad-based government in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: You're saying there's a question whether or not Taliban has effective control of the government? Because as far as I know, the task of recognition is not whether you like somebody or not or whether they follow constitutional principles, because we could spend hours talking about the governments you deal with at the highest level that don't recognize any constitutional rights of its people.

MR. FOLEY: But we don't recognize --

QUESTION: But it used to be that if someone is in control, you've got to deal with them.

MR. FOLEY: I didn't say they were in control of all of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: That's what I'm asking you.

MR. FOLEY: I didn't say that they are, in our view, exercising governmental authority. We don't recognize factions as heads, as governments.

QUESTION: Well, when the faction eventually takes control of the whole country, you --

MR. FOLEY: That's not happened.

QUESTION: This hasn't happened?

MR. FOLEY: That's not happened.

QUESTION: Okay, that was --

QUESTION: Jim, how much are they getting in the way of humanitarian assistance?

MR. FOLEY: I'm sorry, I don't understand your specific question.

QUESTION: Didn't you say that --

QUESTION: Earthquake relief.

MR. FOLEY: That they were getting in the way -- I didn't say that.

QUESTION: No, how much will they be getting?

MR. FOLEY: Oh, how much will they be getting? I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Not getting in the way of , but getting in the way of.


MR. FOLEY: The journalists and the spokesman are two peoples divided by a common language, I'm afraid.

On the subject of humanitarian assistance, first of all, preliminary estimates from rescue workers are that about 30 people died in the earthquake; 100 injured; 3,000 to 4,000 homes destroyed. Those are just preliminary assessments. The earthquake hit in Wardak province, south-southwest of Kabul.

International organizations, including the UN and the ICRC are assessing damaged villages and have begun distributing relief materials. Some relief supplies were pre-positioned in the area as part of USAID-funded disaster preparedness program following earthquakes last year.

Assistant Secretary Inderfurth, who was acting as our ambassadors in the field would normally act - we obviously don't have an embassy in Afghanistan - but he had the authority to declare a disaster in Afghanistan. The US Agency for International Development will coordinate US relief efforts with the UN and other international organizations to provide appropriate humanitarian assistance to the victims of the earthquake.

I don't have any specific figures on that, George, but if I get those I'll bring them to your attention.


(The briefing concluded at 2:45 P.M.)

[end of document]