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UAE cuts ties with Taliban



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Afghanistan's Taliban rulers Saturday as international pressure mounted on the Taliban to turn over suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

The move leaves only two other countries -- Saudi Arabia and Pakistan -- that still recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's government. And diplomatic sources told CNN that Saudi Arabia could make an announcement similar to the UAE's in the coming days.

A UAE diplomat told CNN that over the last few days the Persian Gulf nation had made intensive efforts to get the Taliban government to comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding it hand over bin Laden for a fair international trial. The United States says bin Laden is the prime suspect in the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

"We were trying to help them find a solution, but we didn't get a response," he said.

The Taliban has refused to hand bin Laden over to U.S. authorities, as President Bush demanded. The U.S. has been moving large numbers of military aircraft into the region and has begun activating military units for possible action against Afghanistan as a result.

While Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said this week that his country had downgraded its relationship with the Taliban even before the September 11 attack, the United States wants the Saudis to cut off all ties. A Saudi diplomat told CNN earlier this week that the Saudis "are 100 percent with America."

"We think this is a real fight," he said. "We are ready to go all the way."

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A senior State Department official also told CNN that Saudi Arabia expressed that it was fully on board with U.S. plans for an international coalition against terrorism.

However, the kingdom has not explicitly stated its support for the United States to use its Prince Sultan Air Base in an air war against Afghanistan or any other countries suspected of harboring terrorists. A senior administration official told CNN it was "premature" to secure such support, because plans for a U.S. military campaign are not yet finalized and the United States is not engaging in "hypothetical discussions."

The official also suggested that Saudi Arabia is too far from Afghanistan to be a hub of U.S. military forces. "The mood music coming out of Riyadh is as good as we can hope for," he told CNN.

Pakistan, which has had the closest diplomatic relationship with the neighboring Taliban, is the main conduit for diplomacy with the United States. Even before the attack, Pakistan used its influence with the Taliban in an attempt to help secure the release of eight international aid workers, including two Americans, on trial for charges of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Earlier this week, a Pakistani delegation representing President Pervez Musharraf traveled to Afghanistan and demanded the handover of bin Laden, or face U.S. air strikes.

In addition, a senior Pakistani official tells CNN a letter from Musharraf, delivered by the delegation, demanded the Taliban hand over more than a dozen of bin Laden's associates, close down all terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, and allow a neutral country to verify once that was done.

The crisis has plunged Pakistan into a geographical and political nightmare. The country is wedged between Afghanistan on the west and nuclear rival India on the east.

Musharraf has appealed for his people's support and trust as he laid out reasons for joining the United States in an international coalition against terrorism. But protests across the country indicate many Pakistanis do not support the president's alliance with the United States: At least three people were killed in anti-American demonstrations on Friday. Protests were more peaceful on Saturday.

Senior State Department officials and diplomatic sources tell CNN that the Bush administration could lift sanctions against Pakistan as early as Monday for its cooperation.

-- CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel and State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.






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