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UN Urges Direct Afghan Peace Talks

A photo taken by Afghan member of parliament Naqibullah Faiq shows lawmakers leaving the main hall after a suicide attack in front of Parliament, during clashes with Taliban fighters in Kabul, June 22, 2015.

The top U.N. envoy for Afghanistan on Monday welcomed renewed interest in peace talks between the government and the Taliban, but said it could not happen without direct engagement between the parties.

The U.N. Security Council met for its regular discussion of the situation in Afghanistan just hours after Taliban attackers detonated a massive car bomb outside a parliament meeting convened in Kabul to confirm a new defense minister.

Authorities said all seven attackers were killed; no lawmakers were hurt, but officials say at least 30 other people were wounded. They are among the 4,216 Afghan civilians the United Nations says have been killed or injured this year.

The top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, told the Security Council the country’s security forces, which took over responsibility from international forces at the beginning of this year, are continuing to be tested.

“Foreign fighters from Afghanistan’s northern neighbors and elsewhere present a particular challenge," he said. "There also remains considerable concern that ISIL, referred to in Afghanistan as Da’esh, is seeking to establish a foothold.”

Haysom said greater regional cooperation is necessary to address this shared threat. His comments came hours after Pakistan disclosed it recently facilitated secret talks in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi between Afghan envoys and Taliban representatives.

Despite security challenges, Haysom said there has been a renewed interest in a peaceful settlement to the conflict, citing a Qatari-hosted conference in May that he said "reaffirmed the appetite for peace" by a wide-range of Afghans. He said similar meetings have been held since then, including one last week in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.

He noted the government has repeatedly stated its readiness to engage in direct talks with the Taliban, but the militants have not given a clear indication of readiness to engage with the government.

“Without this direct engagement, no meaningful progress towards peace will be possible, a point that I continue to stress in my conversations with Taliban representatives,” he said, adding that no one benefits on from ongoing conflict.

Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador, Zahir Tanin, said the national unity government wants to revive the peace process and that recent engagement between representatives of the High Peace Council, civil society and the Taliban have promoted dialogue and generated momentum towards an Afghan-led peace process.

The United States envoy at the meeting, Ambassador Michele Sison, said it is clear the Taliban and other armed groups are trying to test the resolve and capabilities of the Afghan security forces. She reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to continue to train, advise and assist the national security forces.