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US Opens Political Contacts With Nepalese Maoist Party

The State Department says U.S. diplomats have begun political contacts with Nepal's Maoist Communist Party, the former guerrilla group which has become the largest party in the country's new legislature. The Maoists remain on two US terrorism lists. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department has quietly opened dialogue with the Maoists in the hope of furthering peaceful change in Nepal, where the new national assembly led by the former rebels voted Wednesday to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic.

The U.S. ambassador in Kathmandu, Nancy Powell, met early this month with the Maoist party leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Evan Feigenbaum did so as well on the three-day visit to Nepal he completed earlier this week. The visit also included talks with leaders of other Nepalese factions.

The United States had previously shunned dialogue with the Maoists, given the history of violence that put them on two separate U.S. government terrorism lists.

But in a talk with reporters, Feigenbaum said the policy shift occurred because of the Maoists participation in the country's comprehensive peace accord and the April 10 assembly elections, both of which had strong U.S. support:

"The Maoists have emerged as the largest party as a result of the constituent assembly election," he noted. "Our role, as we define it in Nepal, is to encourage the various parties to embrace what we think is a common vision of a stable, democratic and prospering Nepal. And so we thought that our own role in encouraging that was best served by our making contact, in this case by Nancy [Powell], and by me. So we took that policy decision. What will happen going forward, I do not know. We will have to see."

Feigenbaum noted that the Nepalese Maoists are not on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations, but do appear on two less well-known U.S. terrorism lists that forbid U.S. financial dealings with designated groups and bar their members from traveling to the United States.

He declined to speculate if the dialogue begun with the Maoists will lead to their removal from the lists.

He said the degree the United States can deal with any of the parties in Nepal will directly depend on the extent to which they continue to embrace the political process and refrain from violence.

Feigenbaum said U.S. officials are encouraged that this week's political transition has been largely peaceful, especially since the vast majority of members of the new assembly lack governing experience.

He said ending the 239-year-old monarchy is entirely a decision for the people of Nepal, but said the United States wants to see a changeover that is "graceful" and preserves peace and harmony in that society.