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US official says Afghanistan center of terrorism

US official says Afghanistan center of terrorism

Afghanistan is the "center of terrorism" and it is critical for the United States that the ruling Taliban stop allowing guerrilla movements to set up in that country, a U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday.

The United States has led efforts to impose sanctions on the Taliban to pressure them into handing over Saudi-exile Osama bin Laden, who lives in Afghanistan and is on the FBI's most-wanted list.

The United States has accused bin Laden of masterminding the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa and he is suspected of being behind the attack on the USS Cole warship in Yemen last October that killed 17 U.S. sailors.

"We must find a way to end the use of Afghanistan as the center of terrorism around the world," said Steven Monblatt, deputy coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department.

"The suspects in the Cole bombing retreated to Afghanistan," he said, later adding that there had not been a definitive link made between the Cole attack and bin Laden.

"The leaders of some of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world find headquarters and support ... in Afghanistan," Monblatt said at a forum on terrorism sponsored by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

"Critical to deal with this problem ... is to isolate the Taliban and make them understand the path that they have chosen, the people they are supporting, is ultimately a dead end for themselves and a tragedy for the people they profess to rule," he said.

To achieve that goal, the cooperation of Pakistan which is Afghanistan's neighbor is needed, Monblatt said.

"I think it's fair to say that we and Pakistan disagree over the extent to which the government of Pakistan can and should influence the Taliban in that direction," he said.

PEACE IN MIDDLE EAST STILL A GOAL

Monblatt said another critical issue was to defend the Middle East peace process "against terrorist attempts to derail it."

He said while activities on the Middle East peace front had slowed because a new U.S. administration was about to take over and because of coming elections in Israel, the goal of achieving peace was not going to disappear.

"I don't want to say the Middle East peace process is currently in abeyance, but clearly with elections over in Israel and a new administration about to take over in the United States, there is a period now in which our sense of moving forward at full speed is somewhat lessened," Monblatt said.

Forces such as Hamas and Hizbollah guerrillas, supported by Iran, and the Kahane organization in Israel, have tried to derail the peace process in the past, he said.

But state sponsorship of terrorism has declined in recent years, Monblatt said. "The activities of the state sponsors has largely become quiescent, there are very few states which are overtly sponsoring terrorist acts today."

Yonah Alexander, director of the International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute, said Iraq was likely to take some hostile action against the United States this year given the 10-year anniversary of the Gulf War and the return to the White House of U.S. officials who played key roles in that war.


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