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US Scrambles to Salvage Afghan Peace Talks

Top U.S. diplomats have been scrambling to salvage plans for peace talks with the Taliban after strong objections by the Afghan government.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken twice with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to ease his concerns. Preliminary negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban had been expected to start on Thursday in Doha, Qatar, but now the start date is unclear.

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

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."

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.

In neighboring Pakistan on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said his country has been holding talks with Afghanistan and the U.S. and supports the Afghan reconciliation process.

"This is part of our overall objective of working with all stakeholders to bring peace and security in Afghanistan. We think that the reconciliation process will be a central element of that effort."

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

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 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.


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