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US Scrambles to Salvage Afghan Peace Talks

  • VOA News

Afghan President Hamid Karzai June 18, 2013

Afghan President Hamid Karzai June 18, 2013

Top U.S. diplomats scrambled Wednesday to salvage plans for preliminary peace talks with the Taliban, after Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to participate in the U.S.-led talks in Qatar.

Mr. Karzai, apparently irked by the opening of a Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar, also canceled negotiations with Washington on a troop pact governing U.S. presence in the country after NATO forces withdraw in 2014.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry spoke twice with Mr. Karzai on Wednesday, in an effort to ease the Afghan leader's objections to the talks. They had been set to begin Thursday, but now the start date is unclear.

Mr. Karzai's objections appeared to focus on the way the Taliban unveiled the office Tuesday in Doha, with a sign identifying the facility as the "Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Psaki told reporters that Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since intervened and that the sign has been replaced with one identifying the office as the previously agreed upon "Political Office of the Afghan Taliban."

It remained unclear early Thursday what affect the name change will have on the talks, which Mr. Karzai insists must be led by Afghanistan.

Kabul also says the U.S. decision to meet the militants in a formal setting outside of Afghanistan undermines the role of the Afghan government.

President Barack Obama said Wednesday he was not surprised by the Afghan government's reaction to the Qatar developments.

"We had anticipated that at the outset there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground," Obama said.

Speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Mr. Obama also said he hoped that despite challenges, the reconciliation process in Afghanistan will proceed.

Plans originally called for senior U.S. State Department and White House officials to meet in Doha with a Taliban delegation, in what authorities described as preliminary talks.

U.S. officials said Tuesday that President Karzai's government was not expected to participate in the initial talks. To date, the Taliban has refused to talk publicly with the Karzai government.