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June 20, 2013

Kerry Heads to Doha to Discuss Afghan Peace Stalemate

by VOA News

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday will visit Doha, Qatar, the site of proposed U.S.-backed Afghan peace talks that triggered strong opposition this week from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Senior State Department officials say the Kerry agenda -- originally set to focus on Syria -- has been expanded to include discussions with U.S. allies on how to salvage the Afghan peace initiative.

The Doha talks were to have opened Thursday, with discussions involving Taliban delegates and senior U.S. officials. But Karzai, apparently irked by the opening of a Taliban political office in that city, objected and said his government would not support the talks.

The Afghan leader's objections focused in part on the way the Taliban unveiled its Doha office earlier this week. The militant group posted a sign identifying the facility as the "Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," and raised an Islamic Emirate flag.

Those moves were widely condemned by the Afghan government, which views them as an attempt by the militant group to establish itself as a legitimate government.

Afghanistan's representative to the United Nations, Zahir Tanin, said Thursday his country "does not recognize such a thing as the Emirate of the Taliban."

In a statement, he also called the Taliban's initial decision to raise its flag at the Doha office a "reminder of a dark and bloody past from which our country is still struggling to emerge."

Officials say the Taliban sign at the Qatar office was replaced with one identifying the office as the previously agreed upon "Political Office of the Afghan Taliban." The flag was still flying at the site on Thursday, but on a shorter flag pole.

By early Friday, there were no public indications that the position of the Afghan government had changed.