The United States said Tuesday that Taliban moves to open a political office in Qatar could play a positive role in ending the war in Afghanistan.
State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington has received no formal notification of Taliban plans to open an office in Doha, but that the Obama administration is willing to support the move if it is part of Afghan-led reconciliation.
"The Afghans have to be in the lead," said Nuland. "This is their country. We will support a process that leads to reconciliation along the lines that we have discussed.”
In an e-mail statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the office will help his group “reach an understanding with the international community.” But he made no mention of the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, which the Taliban calls a “puppet regime."
Nuland said the new office will make a difference only if Taliban leaders meet the Afghan government's conditions for reconciliation.
"This process will only be successful if those Taliban are prepared to renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaida, support the Afghan constitution in all of its elements - including human rights for all citizens in particular for women," she said.
The Taliban statement also called for the release of prisoners held at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Nuland declined to comment on the demand, saying that Washington supports talks with former fighters who are ready for peace.
"Are there individual fighters of strategic significance who are prepared to come off the battlefield and join the political process within the framework that the Afghans have discussed and that we have supported?," asked Nuland.
Nuland said the opening of a Taliban office would facilitate reconciliation by addressing one of the biggest obstacles identified by a recent meeting of Afghan elders.
"You have to have a political address, if you are going to begin a political conversation," she said. "The Afghans themselves have said that they are frustrated that the Taliban do not have a political address. That is what the loya jirga called for.”
Asked why Washington would support talks with the group it went to war with after the terrorist attacks of 2001 on the United States, Nuland cited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's often repeated response, "You don't negotiate with your friends.”