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U.S. Rethinks Taliban Ban

In an apparent softening, the United States said it will take into account views of the United Nations official for Afghanistan who opposes a U.S. decision to close the New York office of the ruling Taliban militia.

Francesc Vendrell, the special U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, has said the move to shut the office could hurt U.N. efforts to end the country's 20-year civil war. He met Tuesday with officials from the State Department's South Asia desk.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he could not speculate about whether the U.S. would be willing to consider allowing a Taliban delegate to stay on in New York. But he said the State Department "will be listening to Mr. Vandrell's views and concerns. We'll take them into account."

Vendrell said Monday he hoped a formula could be agreed upon so Afghanistan's Taliban rulers could keep a delegate in New York after the State Department ordered them last week to close their office, which serves as a liaison to the United Nations, among other functions.

The Taliban is not recognized by the U.N. or most nations as the government of Afghanistan, although it occupies most of the country. Instead, recognition is still given to the former government, which controls a swath of territory in the north and represents the Northern Alliance.

A U.N. Security Council resolution in December 2000 tightening sanctions against the Taliban urged countries to reduce their offices and staff, but said Taliban missions to world organizations might stay open if the host country agreed.

The sanctions, which included an arms and travel embargo against the Taliban, were aimed at forcing it to hand over Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden, charged with masterminding bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Vendrell's goal is to find a way out of a protracted civil war and a humanitarian crisis that has uprooted some 500,000 Afghans in the past year because of drought and war.

The Taliban has threatened to shut down its U.N. headquarters if its office were closed in New York, an action that Vendrell said would "constitute another handicap in the work that we are trying to do on the peace front."

U.S. envoy Nancy Soderberg said the Taliban's New York office would have to be closed, although she left open the possibility that Taliban officials negotiating with the United Nations would not have to leave the country.

"I'm sure we can find a way to continue that dialogue," she said. "We don't have the answer quite yet, frankly. But the offices absolutely will be closed."

Leili Helms, an adviser to the head of the Taliban's New York office, Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, said on Tuesday that the order from the U.S. Treasury to close the office had not been received yet

Helms said the Taliban had tried to send "positive messages" to the new U.S. administration to resolve the bin Laden issue, proposing a number of options, including putting him on trial i an Islamic country. But she said "the only thing the U.S. is doing is rebuffing them" by ordering the New York office closed.

©MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Limited contributed to this report

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