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|Fwd: [Arab-Amer] Al-Qaida monitored U.S. negotiations with Taliban over oil pipe|
>Al-Qaida monitored U.S. negotiations with Taliban over oil pipeline
>A memo by military chief Mohammed Atef raises new questions about whether
>failed U.S. efforts to reform Afghanistan's radical regime -- and build
>the pipeline -- set the stage for Sept. 11.
>- - - - - - - - - - - -
>By Jean-Charles Brisard
>June 5, 2002 | A 1998 memo written by al-Qaida military chief Mohammed
>Atef reveals that Osama bin Laden's group had detailed knowledge of
>negotiations that were taking place between Afghanistan's ruling Taliban
>and American government and business leaders over plans for a U.S. oil and
>gas pipeline across that Central Asian country.
>The e-mail memo was found in 1998 on a computer seized by the FBI during
>its investigation into the 1998 African embassy bombings, which were
>sponsored by al-Qaida. Atef's memo was discovered by FBI counter-terrorism
>expert John O'Neill, who left the bureau in 2001, complaining that U.S.
>oil interests were hindering his investigation into al-Qaida. O'Neill, who
>became security chief at the World Trade Center, died in the Sept. 11 attack.
>Atef's memo shines new light on what al-Qaida knew about U.S. efforts to
>normalize relations with the Taliban in exchange for the fundamentalist
>government's supporting the construction of an oil and gas pipeline across
>Afghanistan. As documented in the book I coauthored with Guillaume
>Dasquie, "Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth," the Clinton and Bush
>administrations negotiated with the Taliban, both to get the repressive
>regime to widen its government as well as look favorably on U.S.
>companies' attempts to construct an oil pipeline. The Bush White House
>stepped up negotiations with the Taliban in 2001. When those talks stalled
>in July, a Bush administration representative threatened the Taliban with
>military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands.
>The seven-page memo was signed "Abu Hafs," which is the military name of
>Atef, who was the military chief of al-Qaida and is believed to have been
>killed in November 2001 during U.S. operations in Afghanistan. It shows
>al-Qaida's keen interest in the U.S.-Taliban negotiations and raises new
>questions as to whether the U.S. military threat to the Taliban in July
>2001 could have prompted al-Qaida's Sept. 11 attack.
>Atef's memo is not about the pipeline alone, though it mentions the
>project several times. It is an analysis of the political situation facing
>the Taliban. It documents the movement's rise, its leadership, the
>geopolitical importance of Afghanistan, the Taliban's relationship with
>Pakistan, as well as the movement's relationship with the Arab mujahedin.
>The document's intended readership is unclear. But it reveals that the
>pipeline was seen as a strategic offering toward the West, in order to
>make the Taliban government acceptable to the United States and Pakistan,
>as well as to reduce military and investigative pressure on the country to
>rein in or even extradite bin Laden.
>Atef explains that the United States wants "to take control of any region
>which has huge quantities of oil reserves," and "the American government
>is keen on laying the oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan through
>Afghanistan to Pakistan." Atef concludes that al-Qaida's "duty toward the
>movement [Taliban] is to stand behind it, support it materially and
>morally, especially because its regional and international enemies are
>working night and day to put an end to it and make it fail."
>It seems clear the military chief didn't expect the pipeline negotiations
>to bear fruit. Referring to Pakistanis as "nonbelievers," and noting that
>the pipeline "will be under American control ... and it also goes through
>the territories of Pakistan which are allied to America," Atef implies
>that the Taliban has no intention of ultimately cooperating with the
>project, but is trying to string along the Americans and Pakistanis to win
>some breathing room for its unpopular government.
>The Atef memo is the latest piece of evidence documenting a murky chapter
>in recent American history -- the overtures of the last two American
>administrations to the repressive Taliban regime. Several U.S. oil
>companies, most notably Unocal, had been advocates of diplomatic overtures
>to the Taliban, in order to facilitate the building of a pipeline from the
>Caspian Sea region to Pakistan and the Persian Gulf through Afghanistan.
>In 1996, Unocal vice president Chris Taggart described the fall of Kabul
>to the Taliban regime as a "very positive step" and urged the U.S. to
>extend recognition to the new rulers in Kabul and thus "lead the way to
>international lending agencies coming in."
>Just 10 days after the Taliban seized power in Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad,
>former National Security Council official and Unocal consultant who was
>appointed special envoy to Afghanistan by President George W. Bush at the
>end of 2001, argued in a Washington Post opinion article that the U.S.
>should try to work with the mullahs and form a broad-based government that
>included other factions. "The Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S.
>style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran -- it is closer to the Saudi
>model ..." Khalilzad contended, concluding that "we should use as a
>positive incentive the benefits that will accrue to Afghanistan from the
>construction of oil and gas pipelines across its territory ... These
>projects will only go forward if Afghanistan has a single authoritative
>Soon after, the State Department spokesman Glyn Davies told the New York
>Times he had hope that "the new authorities in Kabul will move quickly to
>restore order and security and to form a representative interim government
>that can begin the process of reconciliation nationwide." Davies also said
>the United States "wanted to send diplomats to Afghanistan to meet with
>the Taliban and held out the possibility of re-establishing full
>diplomatic ties with the country," according to the Times.
>In November 1997 Unocal invited a Taliban delegation to Texas and, in
>early December, the company opened a training center at the University of
>Nebraska, to instruct 137 Afghans in pipeline construction technology. The
>company also donated to the university's Center for Afghanistan Studies.
>Unocal CEO John Imle estimated that the company spent between $15 and $20
>million on its Central Asia oil pipeline (CentGas) project -- on
>preliminary feasibility studies, humanitarian projects and other efforts
>to lobby the Taliban (Unocal equipped the regime with satellite phones,
>In February 1998, Unocal's vice president for international relations,
>John Maresca, told a House subcommittee hearing on U.S. interests in the
>Central Asian Republics that an oil pipeline "would benefit Afghanistan,
>which would receive revenues from transport tariffs, and would promote
>stability and encourage trade and economic development." Emphasizing that
>"the proposed Central Asia Oil Pipeline (CentGas) cannot begin
>construction until an internationally recognized Afghanistan government is
>in place," he urged the administration and the Congress "to give strong
>support to the United Nations-led peace process in Afghanistan."
>Until the 1998 al-Qaida embassy bombings, the Clinton administration's
>approach toward the Taliban was much the same as Unocal's: All parties
>agreed that the political stabilization of Afghanistan was crucial to the
>region, and was also a way to gain access to oil reserves of the Caspian
>Sea region. Though bin Laden had been in the country since 1996, the U.S.
>had not pressured the Taliban to hand him over.
>The embassy bombings in August 1998 changed everything. The Clinton
>administration denounced the regime and Secretary of State Madeleine
>Albright turned up the heat on Taliban human rights abuses. The United
>Nations imposed sanctions, freezing Afghanistan's foreign assets and
>limiting its citizens' travel. The U.S. continued to talk to the Taliban,
>but the emphasis was on extraditing bin Laden in exchange for
>international recognition; the pipeline was off the table. Unocal, which
>had been close to finalizing its pipeline deal before the embassy
>bombings, cancelled it.
>When George W. Bush took office in 2001, his administration made new
>overtures to the Taliban, and the pipeline deal gained renewed support, as
>an incentive to get the Taliban to make political concessions and form a
>broader government. U.S. representatives met with Afghanistan's former
>King Shah, to see if he might be included in a new government. And
>American companies began exploring the failed 1998 pipeline project. A
>report by an Afghan-born Enron manager in July 2001, for instance,
>illustrates that company's deep interest in some sort of pipeline deal.
>Enron had begun funding the same sorts of humanitarian projects as Unocal
>had three years earlier.
>In March 2001, several Taliban officials, including Sayed Rahmattulah
>Hashimi, Mullah Omar's personal advisor, were invited to Washington by
>their U.S. lobbyist, Leila Helms, the niece of former CIA Director Richard
>Helms. The agenda included discussions of extraditing bin Laden as well as
>facilitating American companies' access to oil reserves in central Asia.
>The delegation met with representatives of the Directorate of Central
>Intelligence (DCI) and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the
>This visit provoked concern and criticism in Washington over how Hashimi
>obtained a visa, a plane ticket, security clearance and access to American
>institutions -- including the State Department and the National Security
>Council -- despite travel restrictions on Taliban leadership imposed by
>U.N. sanctions (the official answer was that Hashimi fell below the rank
>of senior official covered by the sanctions.)
>Four months later, American diplomats met with Taliban emissaries as well
>as representatives from Pakistan, Iran and Russia for four days of talks
>in Berlin in mid-July. Again, the message was that if the Taliban would
>extradite bin Laden and form a broad-based national government, it could
>win international recognition and reap extensive economic subsidies from
>the construction of a pipeline. The meeting was one of several convened by
>Francesco Vendrell, a Spanish diplomat who serves as the U.N.'s chief
>representative on Afghanistan. The delegates at the July meeting included
>Robert Oakley, former U.S. ambassador and Unocal lobbyist; Karl "Rick"
>Inderfurth, former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs;
>Lee Coldren, head of the Office of Pakistan, Afghan and Bangladesh Affairs
>in the State Department until 1997; Tom Simons, former U.S. ambassador to
>Pakistan and the most recent official negotiator with the Taliban; Niaz
>Naik, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan; Nikolai Kozyrev, a former
>Russian special envoy to Afghanistan; and Saeed Rajai Khorassani, formerly
>the Iranian representative to the U.N. The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan,
>Abdul Salam Zaeef, attended several sessions with some of the delegates in
>Berlin, according to Naif Naik, though officially the Taliban had not been
>invited. Naik was expected to carry the U.S. message to the Taliban.
>According to Naik, the point of the meeting was that "we would try to
>convey to them that if they did certain things, then, gradually, they
>could win the jackpot, get something in return from the international
>community." It might, Naik said, "be possible to persuade the Taliban that
>once a broader-based government was in place and the oil pipeline under
>way, there would be billions of dollars in commission, and the Taliban
>would have their own resources."
>It was at the July meeting, according to Naik, that Tom Simons suggested
>that Afghanistan could face an open-ended military operation from bases in
>Uzbekistan and Tajikistan if it didn't accede to U.S. demands. "Ambassador
>Simons stated that if the Taliban wouldn't agree with the plan, and if
>Pakistan was unable to persuade them, the United States might use an overt
>action against Afghanistan," Naik says. The words used by Simons were "a
>military operation," according to Naik. Another participant reportedly
>said the Taliban's choice was clear: either accept a "carpet of gold"
>riches from the pipeline or "a carpet of bombs," meaning a military strike.
>Lee Coldren, a member of the U.S. delegation, also confirmed to the
>British newspaper the Guardian the American position at the Berlin
>meeting. "I think there was some discussion of the fact that the United
>States was so disgusted with the Taliban that they might be considering
>some military action."
>In statements to newspapers, Simons has offered ambiguous explanations of
>his statements at the July meeting. In September, he told the British
>Guardian: "I've known Naik and considered him a friend for years. He's an
>honorable diplomat. I didn't say anything like that and didn't hear anyone
>else say anything like that. We were clear that feeling in Washington was
>strong, and that military action was one of the options down the road. But
>details, I don't know where they came from."
>Yet in a November interview with Le Monde, Simons seemed to confirm that
>there had been some talk of U.S. military action. "It is true that the
>Taliban was asked to deliver bin Laden and form a [broader] government,"
>Simons told Le Monde. "We said in July that we were investigating the
>attack against the USS Cole in Yemen, and that if there were solid
>evidence of the implication of bin Laden, one had to expect a military
>answer. One can always inflate such a declaration to see a global threat
>against the Taliban. But the American declaration related only to the
>response to the USS-Cole.
>"As for the 'carpet of gold and the carpet of bombs,' we actually
>discussed the need for a plan for rebuilding for Afghanistan, which would
>follow a political agreement," he said, adding that "It's possible that a
>mischievous American participant, after several drinks, may have thought
>it smart to evoke gold carpets and carpet bombs. Even Americans can't
>resist the temptation to be mischievous."
>The last known meeting between U.S. and Taliban representatives took place
>in August, five weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, when U.S. Assistant
>Secretary of State for Central Asian affairs Christina Rocca met with the
>Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef.
>It would be unfair to suggest that the U.S. threat in July led to the
>al-Qaida strike. But while Simons doesn't admit that he personally
>threatened the Taliban with reprisal, he confirms that only a few weeks
>before Sept. 11, American diplomats warned of military action against
>Afghanistan if its leaders did not meet U.S. economic and political
>demands. It is worth asking whether, had this threat been widely known,
>U.S. intelligence agencies might have analyzed the information they were
>receiving about bin Laden's plots against the U.S. differently.
>Now the newly discovered Atef memo makes clear that in 1998, at least,
>al-Qaida was well informed about negotiations between the Taliban and the
>U.S. on the oil pipeline and other American concerns. The memo also shows
>that those negotiations were the Taliban's gambit to extend its power;
>Mullah Omar's government never had any intention of allowing U.S. firms to
>construct an oil pipeline, or letting the U.S. dictate the members of its
>ruling body. Given the inside knowledge al-Qaida had about U.S.-Taliban
>negotiations, it's reasonable to suspect bin Laden's group also received
>and understood the U.S. threat of military action delivered in late July
>as a threat of war.
>In the end, though, the U.S. got its way. Interim Afghan leader Hamid
>Karzai decided on May 30 to revive the pipeline project with Pakistan and
>Turkmenistan, signing an agreement under which the three governments agree
>to implement a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan.
>Would that U.S. intelligence agencies' investigations into al-Qaida
>activities in the months before Sept. 11 had such a productive ending.
>- - - - - - - - - - - -
>About the writer
>Jean-Charles Brisard, coauthor of "Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth," is a
>consultant on business and corporate intelligence
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