U.S. Official, Ex-Afghan King Talk
ROME (Kyodo) Afghanistan's former king met Tuesday with the top U.S. official in Italy as diplomatic activity intensified around the monarch, who aides say wants to help his country find peace.
The U.S. charge d'affairs, William Pope, requested the meeting with former King Mohammad Zahir Shah, and the two huddled at the monarch's secluded villa on the outskirts of Rome for an hour, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.
It was the second top-level meeting in recent days for the normally reclusive Zahir, 86, who has lived in Italy since his 1973 ouster. On Sunday, he met with the U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell.
He is also awaiting a visit from members of Afghanistan's anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. An aide to Zahir, Yusuf Nuristani, said Tuesday the opposition members' arrival in Rome had again been delayed. He didn't say when they were expected.
Vendrell and aides to Zahir have said the former king would be willing to play a role in Afghanistan. Vendrell said Sunday that Zahir had no desire to return as monarch, but could help form a transitional government in the country if the Taliban are ousted.
The flurry of contacts came as the United States was preparing to retaliate militarily for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The prime suspect, Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden, has been living in Afghanistan as a ``guest'' of the Taliban. Washington has warned the Taliban they will be targeted if they don't hand over bin Laden and his lieutenants, among other things.
Zahir's 40-year reign ended with a coup by his cousin, which opened Afghanistan to three decades of conflict.
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