The Bush administration is not interested in sending the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Afghanistan to mediate talks between the United States and the Taliban, a senior White House official told Fox News Thursday.
In a private telephone conversation, Jackson was unable to persuade Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that a meeting with the Taliban would be worthwhile, the official said. The official said President Bush "has made clear what his demands are and they are not open to negotiation. It's time for action, not words."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer declined to comment. "I would just reiterate what the president has said, that he will not engage in any negotiations or discussions" with the Taliban, Fleischer said.
Joe Montville, Director of Preventive Diplomacy for the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees that Jackson should not get involved.
"I have generally been a supporter of Jesse Jackson's initiatives to move in where the government has obstacles — Syria and Serbia are past examples of this — but I am wary about this one," he said.
"The Taliban are in a course of being delegitimized. The Saudi government, which is ultra-conservative and Islamic observant, denounced the Taliban as defaming Islam, and this is a very serious statement," Montville said. "It is not wise for Jackson to restore prestige to a Muslim leader who has been defamed. If I were he, I'd stay out of it."
Despite the White House's rebuff of Jackson's offer, the Taliban's reclusive leader is willing to let Jackson visit his country for talks, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan said.
It was unclear which party made the initial proposal to meet.
Jackson said he received a call from Taliban representatives Wednesday inviting him to lead a "peace delegation" to the region. However, the ambassador said Jackson came to them.
"It's imprudent to interject yourself without coordinating with the Bush administration's plans first. Freelance diplomacy can be a very dangerous game," Ruth Wedgwood, Burling Professor of International Law and Diplomacy at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, said.
"I don't think the Taliban is going to deliver bin Laden because Jackson visits and asks them to," added Wedgwood. "If the Bush administration is looking for a face-saving device to create a pause for peace, and Jesse is willing to play that role, well God bless him. The only good it might do would be to get the Christian relief workers out of jail. But he's not going to reorient the nature of Islamic fundamentalists."
Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a think tank, said, "I think Mr. Jackson's idea of going over there to try and win release of some of the people in Afghanistan is an utterly irresponsible idea.
"I think it really diminishes our ability to form a coalition of like-minded people, find the terrorists and stop them from committing further atrocities, he said. "It's just a really awful idea."
The civil rights activist suggested he was open to making the trip if his involvement could prevent the deaths of innocent Afghan civilians during a U.S. military campaign against terrorism.
"We must weigh what this invitation means. We're not going to be precipitous," Jackson said. "If we can do something to encourage them to dismantle those terrorist bases, to choose to hand over the suspects and release the Christians rather than engage in a long bloody war, we'll encourage them to do so."
Jackson said the message from a Taliban spokesman said that "war and bloodshed are easy but peace is difficult," and extended an invitation for him to bring a delegation to meet with them.
"We would like to see this situation resolved in a way that preserves the dignity and integrity of all sides ... in the interest of avoiding the humanitarian catastrophe that would befall the people of Afghanistan as a result of military strikes," Jackson quoted the telegram as saying.
He said he received the invitation to go to Pakistan in a telegram Wednesday from Mohammed Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman at the Taliban's embassy in Islamabad. The hard-line Islamic Taliban movement controls much of Afghanistan; Pakistan is the only remaining nation that recognizes them as the government of the Central Asian country.
"I hope [the Taliban] choose an international court of world justice over world war," Jackson said.
Jackson was also quick to praise Bush's decisions in the days since the attacks on Sept. 11, saying that Bush has been "presidential" in using "restraint" in his pursuit of war on terrorists.
Jackson's most recent foray into the field of international political tension was earlier this year, when he traveled to China in an effort to secure the release of 24 crew members of a Navy reconnaissance plane being held after their aircraft crashed.
Before that, he traveled to Yugoslavia in 1999 to secure the release of three American soldiers captured during the conflict over Kosovo. As he has on most of these trips, he traveled without the blessing of the administration in Washington.
Jackson also inserted himself into George H. W. Bush's conflict with Iraq by traveling to Baghdad in 1990, before the Gulf War, to ferry out 47 civilians seized by Saddam Hussein shortly after he invaded Kuwait. And in 1984, he flew to Syria to bring Navy pilot Robert Goodman out after he was shot down over Lebanon.
Fox News' Rita Cosby and The Associated Press contributed to this report.