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Saudis reiterate demand that Taliban expel bin Laden

By Abdullah Al-Shihri
Associated Press / February 3, 2010

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia said during a visit by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan yesterday that it will not get involved in peacemaking unless the Taliban stop providing shelter and sever all ties with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Karzai is visiting with hopes for an active Saudi role in his plan to persuade Taliban militants to switch sides.

He will meet with Saudi officials today after performing the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

Saudi Arabia has a unique relationship with the Taliban since it was one of the few countries to recognize the regime before it was ousted in 2001 and has acted as an intermediary before.

The Saudi conditions for participating in the talks with the Taliban, especially expelling former Saudi citizen bin Laden, are not new, but Riyadh is making them clear amid a new international push to work with the Afghan militants.

Saudi officials say they need a Taliban commitment to renounce contacts with extremists before engaging the group.

“So long as the Taliban doesn’t stop providing shelter for terrorists and bin Laden and end their contacts with them, I don’t think the negotiations will be positive or even able to achieve anything,’’ Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi foreign minister, said in London last week.

“They must tell us that they gave this up, and prove it of course,’’ he said, according to the privately owned Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that an official mediation request is needed.

His views were reiterated yesterday by a Foreign Ministry official who said bin Laden would have to be expelled from Taliban-controlled lands and the group must clearly declare its new position.

Bin Laden is a member of a wealthy Saudi family but fell out with the government in the early 1990s over the presence of US troops there.

He has repeatedly condemned the ruling family and was stripped of his citizenship in 1994.

Saudi Arabia hosted members of the Afghan government and Taliban over a meal during the holy month of Ramadan in 2008 at the request of Karzai. But the talks didn’t get very far.

Saudi analyst Anwar Eshki said informal Saudi contacts with Taliban members have been made in recent months to gauge the group’s mood.

“Saudi Arabia will not get involved unless the two sides ask for it, unless there is a desire for dialogue,’’ said Eshki, the head of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Jeddah.