Again, Taliban Refuse to Hand Over Bin Laden

The Taliban government on Friday rejected a plea by a high-level Pakistani religious and government delegation to turn over Usama bin Laden and release a group of Americans being held captive, sources told Fox News.

The U.S. should "give up its stubborn demand for bin Laden," Afghan officials defiantly told the group, which included Pakistan’s intelligence chief and some of the Taliban’s strongest supporters in Pakistan.

The visit was seen by some as perhaps the last hope to avert a military confrontation between the recalcitrant Taliban government and a U.S.-led coalition intent on capturing or killing bin Laden and wiping out his Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The Taliban also rejected a request to turn over a group of American aid workers who have been held since August, sources told Fox News. Family members of the prisoners have been in Pakistan this week to press for their release, so far without success.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, accompanied the delegation and said the meeting took place in the city of Kandahar with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and other top officials. Omar and several other top officials have been in hiding for some time in anticipation of a U.S. attack.

The Pakistani delegation had returned to the coastal city of Karachi by Friday evening, and there were no plans for the group to return to Pakistan for more talks, sources told Fox News.

Zaeef, however, put a more positive spin on the meetings. He called the daylong talks "fruitful" and said there would be more discussions.

They "didn't go there to discuss Usama bin Laden, but to discuss the crisis, and talked about the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan," Zaeef told the Associated Press after the talks.

Pakistan had no official comment, but sources close to the delegation told Fox News the talks had not been productive.

Speaking before the end of the talks, the Pakistani government on Friday declined to characterize the delegation’s visit as a last-ditch effort to stave off a U.S. attack on Afghanistan. But a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said his government wasn’t particularly interested turning the meetings into a series of negotiations or drawn-out discussions.

The meeting came a day after the Taliban claimed to have delivered a message to bin Laden, asking him to leave the country voluntarily. Just two days earlier, the Taliban said they did not know where bin Laden was and could not communicate with him.

President Bush has made clear he will hold the Taliban responsible for bin Laden should they fail to act against him. Bush repeated his statements on Friday, saying he had nothing more to add to his previous demands.

A second delegation consisting of clerics from Pakistan's main Islamic parties said it hoped to travel to Afghanistan in coming days, according to some reports. That plan could not be confirmed by Pakistani officials.

Before the talks, Pakistan would not spell out the delegation's message to the Taliban. But Riaz Mohammed Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Office, said: "In view of the gravity of the situation, the Afghan leadership should be responsive to what the world is expecting of them."

Gen. Rashid Qureshi, Pakistan's military government spokesman, said it was the latest contact "with the Afghan government to persuade them of the need to address the concerns of the United States and the world community."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.