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'98 call from Taliban leader revealed

WASHINGTON -- In 1998, a day after President Clinton sent cruise missiles against Al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, the leader of that country's ruling Taliban militia telephoned the State Department and offered to talk, according to a State Department message disclosed yesterday.

Little came of the contact, although Mullah Mohammed Omar counseled the department that the United States would never be accepted as a friend of Muslims unless Congress forced Clinton to resign.

Clinton announced Aug. 21, 1998, that he had sent cruise missiles "to strike at the network of radical groups af.liated with and funded by Osama bin Laden, perhaps the preeminent organizer and financier of international terrorism in the world today."

The attacks were to retaliate for the bombings of two US embassies in Africa two weeks earlier that killed 231 people.

Bin Laden, mastermind behind the Qaeda terror network, was blamed for those as well as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

He had established training camps in Afghanistan under Omar's protection. His camps and a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan, that was thought to have been connected with bin Laden were targets of the missiles. Bin Laden and his comrades escaped. After Sept. 11, US forces invaded Afghanistan and brought down the Taliban government. Both Omar and bin Laden remain at large.

The message, drafted by Michael E. Malinowski, then the head of the State Department's Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh desk, reported what is believed to be the first and perhaps only US contact with Omar. After a translator con.rmed the caller was Omar, the message said, "Malinowski noted that we had much to speak about, especially the continued presence of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and the threat that bin Laden posed to Americans."

The message was provided to the Associated Press by the National Security Archive, an independent nongovernmental research group based at George Washington University. The archive said it obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In summarizing his conversation with Omar, Malinowski said the Afghan "parroted some of bin Laden's hard-line views" but listened to US arguments on why Clinton ordered the attacks against Afghanistan and Sudan and "the reasons why bin Laden's continued activities were not in the interest of the Afghan people."

"Omar warned that the US strikes would prove counterproductive and arouse anti-American feelings in the Islamic world," the message said. They could spark more, not fewer, terror attacks, it said. In another section, Malinowski wrote, "He said that in order to rebuild US popularity in the Islamic world and because of [Clinton's] current domestic dif.culties Congress should force President Clinton to resign."

At the time, Clinton was under pressure because of his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

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