DOHA — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Taliban's newly opened office in Doha may be closed if there is not progress on opening talks with U.S. officials.
Talks between U.S. and Taliban officials were to have started here in Doha last week. But they were delayed following objections from Afghan President Hamid Karzai about how the Taliban were presenting themselves.
Secretary Kerry is in Doha for a meeting of governments backing Syrian rebels. He spoke to reporters about the Taliban issue alongside Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani.
"We are waiting to find out whether or not the Taliban will respond in order to be able to follow the sequence which has been painstakingly established," Kerry said.
Kerry says the United States performed its part in good faith. But regrettably, he says, the agreement was not adhered to by the Taliban. They opened their office with a sign identifying the facility as the "Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" and raised an Islamic Emirate flag.
The flag is now lower and the sign has been replaced with one identifying the site as the previously-agreed-upon "Political Office of the Afghan Taliban." Kerry thanked Qatari officials for helping to set things right.
"Now we need to see if we can get back on track," Kerry said. "I don't know whether that's possible or not. If there is not a decision to move forward by the Taliban in short order, then we may have to consider whether or not the office has to be closed."
That is unlikely given the length of negotiations it took to get to this point. But the threat does illustrate how much could go wrong with a process that U.S. officials freely admit may fail entirely.
While focusing on an "Afghan-led" political reconciliation that ultimately includes Taliban meeting directly with members of the Karzai government, U.S. officials say they have their own issues with the Taliban including the release of a captured American serviceman and the need for the group to renounce violence and publicly break with al-Qaida.
Prime Minister Al Thani says Qatar will do its best as a facilitator in these talks, but it depends on those involved to make it work.
"The office being opened in Qatar is to bring everybody to the table to talk -- the Afghanis, the Americans -- they have to talk because we think the only way to get out of this war in Afghanistan is by talking to each other and to try to find a comprehensive peace and everybody has to live in Afghanistan without eliminating any part of the Afghani people," Al Thani said.
The top U.S. negotiator for these talks is in Doha, and U.S. officials say they could start within days.