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US Says Talks with Taliban Fail to Get Off the Ground

US ambassador in Afghanistan, James Cunningham, speaks during a news event at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 17, 2013.

US ambassador in Afghanistan, James Cunningham, speaks during a news event at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 17, 2013.

Hopes for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan rose in recent months with the news that the Taliban was about to open an office in Doha, Qatar, and start talks with the United States and Afghan representatives. But in the wake of a dispute between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the militant group, the U.S. says the talks have apparently failed to get off the ground.

U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said Wednesday that it is not clear if the Taliban are ready to sit down for talks.

“We hope that those discussions will take place, we know that the government of Afghanistan wants them as do we, but it’s up to the Taliban now to decide whether to take advantage of the opportunity that’s provided to have a discussion with Afghans, with the Afghan High Peace Council, about the future of Afghanistan and about peace and reconciliation,” he said.

President Hamid Karzai boycotted the talks with the Taliban when the militants raised the flag under which they had once ruled Afghanistan at their Doha office.

Ambassador Cunningham said Washington immediately voiced its displeasure over the raising of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan flag. He said that U.S. special envoy James Dobbins did not meet with the militants in Doha during his trip to the region this week because they had not responded to the necessary conditions for the talks, including meeting with Afghan High Peace Council representatives.

“That is the key part of the whole process, is to get the Taliban talking to the High Peace Council. That is what we agreed in Washington with President Karzai would be the goal of the [Doha] office. And that’s because the future of Afghanistan needs to be discussed among Afghans - that is not our discussion, that is for an Afghan discussion and negotiation,” said the ambassador.

Cunningham said if the Taliban were not ready to meet the conditions laid out for the talks, the U.S. would consider closing the Doha office altogether.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have continued to carry out attacks across Afghanistan. In the latest, four militants died Tuesday trying to break through a security cordon with explosive-filled vehicles into the Presidential Palace compound.

Washington has been trying to get the two sides to negotiate an end to the 12 years of war in Afghanistan - a goal seen as particularly crucial now that international combat forces are preparing to leave the country by the end of 2014.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.