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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

New Book Say Negotiations by U.S. with Taliban for Oil May Have Interfered With Efforts to Get Bin Laden

Aired January 9, 2002 - 07:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: As you heard in our last half-hour, the authors of a new book say secret negotiations by the U.S. with the Taliban for oil may have actually interfered with efforts to get Osama bin Laden.

For his reaction, we turn to our own ambassador-in-residence -- I love that flourish of music -- Richard Butler, former chief U.N. weapons inspector, now with the Council on Foreign Relations. That must make you feel very special.

RICHARD BUTLER, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Absolutely.

ZAHN: All right. Let's talk a little about the most explosive charges in this book. These authors essentially are saying, because of information given to them by an FBI counterterrorism officer that they believe that the prosecution against terrorism in Afghanistan was suspended because of oil interests.

Now, this gets very tricky, because this FBI counterterrorism officer left that job, went on to head up security at the World Trade Centers...

BUTLER: Right.

ZAHN: ... and tragically died on September 11.

BUTLER: John O'Neill, right. That's right. It does. Paula, this is a web. You and I can't assess precisely the veracity of what these two French authors have said. But this has got a cast of characters in it that is fascinating. We've got a former CIA officer, Christina Rocca, who is now in the State Department who went to Afghanistan weeks before September 11, and to Pakistan, and talked with the Taliban, a group that we did not recognize, and you now know what we have done to them. You have got Laila Helms (ph), the niece of the former head of the CIA, who was a public relations agent.

ZAHN: Hired by the Taliban.

BUTLER: Hired by the Taliban. And you've got oil, and this is a fundamental thing. Let us not lose sight of this basic reality. The population of the United States of America represents 5 percent of the population of the world. Yet, we use 40 percent -- 40 percent of the world's oil. So oil is a big issue, and as we were saying yesterday, there is very substantial oil in Central Asia. And to get that out to the sea, the best possible way to do it would be to build a pipeline across Afghanistan.

So that's the web, Paula, and I don't think we're being told all of the facts. There are denials, claims that meetings didn't take place, when clearly they did. The most interesting thing those French authors told us today is that they had seen archives. We couldn't quite understand their accent, but I know what that means. That means records of diplomatic conversations that took place.

ZAHN: And...

BUTLER: And they have seen those things.

ZAHN: ... they also went on to say in this book that Laila Helms, this woman that you said was hired by the Taliban...

BUTLER: That's right.

ZAHN: ... to sort of do PR for them...

BUTLER: Right.

ZAHN: ... alleges that at one point, the Taliban actually agreed to give up Osama bin Laden. The Taliban agreed to give the U.S. coordinates for his location.

BUTLER: Right.

ZAHN: Now, this is before 9/11.

BUTLER: Right.

ZAHN: So that the U.S. could get to him. Now, the State Department denies that offer was ever made. What do you make of that allegation?

BUTLER: We need to know more. I mean, I read that with gobbled (ph) eyes. I mean, that's dynamite that we would...

ZAHN: If it's true.

BUTLER: If it's true. That we were given the coordinates and time in which to make a military strike against bin Laden, you know, a fair amount of time. And it is alleged that we turned it down in preference for what? I mean, is it true or not? We need to know that.

Secondly, if we did turn it down, why? For an oil pipeline? Is that what's being said here? That's the web I think is being depicted here. We need to know more about it (UNINTELLIGIBLE) truth.

ZAHN: I can only give you 15 seconds to turn to another segment -- a section that is -- here, the issue of "The New York Times" reporting that the U.S. has changed its policies on nuclear weapons. BUTLER: Right. The Nuclear Posture Review document, about every four years, is about to come out. And consistent with what the president has said, it will show less reliance on nuclear weapons than in the past. But there's an interesting aspect to it. The weapons that will be withdrawn won't be dismantled. They'll just be kept in storage. And that, I think, disappoints a lot of people. It's kind of disarmament halfway. But we'll hear more about that.

ZAHN: And we'll address that in greater detail with you.

BUTLER: OK.

ZAHN: Our ambassador-in-residence, Richard Butler -- thanks so much for your time.

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