WASHINGTON – A day after former President Clinton (search) sent cruise missiles against Al Qaeda (search) 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 Friday.
Little came of the contact, although Mullah Mohammed Omar (search) counseled the department that the United States would never be accepted as a friend of the Muslims unless Congress forced Clinton to resign.
Clinton announced Aug. 21, 1998, that he had sent cruise missiles "to strikrica two weeks earlier that killed 231 people. Bin Laden, mastermind behind the Al 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 cruises. Bin Laden and his comrades escaped.
After Sept. 11, U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan and in a brief campaign brought down the Taliban government and put bin Laden to flight. 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 U.S. contact with the rabidly anti-American Muslim cleric.
After a translator confirmed that the caller on an open State Department line was Omar, the message said, "Malinowski noted that we had much to speak about, especially the continued presence of Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan and the threat that bin Laden posed to Americans."
"Omar replied that, while he had no particular message for us, he was open to dialogue," the message said. "Malinowski suggested that open telephone lines were inappropriate for that serious dialogue."
The message was provided to The Associated Press by the National Security Archive, an independent nongovernmental research group based at George Washington University that collects previously secret government documents. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. popularity in the Islamic world and because of (Clinton's) current domestic difficulties Congress should force President Clinton to resign."
At the time, Clinton was under intense pressure of his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Some Republicans suggested that he may have sent the missiles to divert attention from the scandal.
The Taliban leader told Malinowski he knew of no evidence that bin Laden had planned our carried out terror attacks from Afghanistan.
"Malinowski replied that there was considerable evidence against bin Laden, and that the evidence was solid," the message said. "He noted that Omar and the Taliban should be well aware of what bin Laden had been up to in Afghanistan."
"Omar conducted himself in a careful and controlled manner," Malinowski wrote. "At no time did he bluster or threaten."
In a paragraph marked "comment," Malinowski said: "Omar's contact with a (U.S.) official is rather remarkable, given his reclusive nature and his past avoidance of contact with all things American.
"It is indicative of the seriousness of how the Taliban view the U.S. strikes and our anger over bin Laden."