Afghan Leader Agrees to Taliban Talks and Office in Qatar

Posted January 4th, 2012 at 11:00 am (UTC-5)
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has welcomed negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the United States, as well as the Islamist insurgent group's plans to open an office in the Gulf state of Qatar.

In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Karzai said he agrees with negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S. that would lead to the establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar. The statement added that the talks could save the country from “war, conspiracies and the killing of innocent people.”

The Afghan Taliban said Tuesday it had reached an “initial agreement” to set up its first political overseas office in Qatar.

The announcement came in an e-mailed statement from Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in which the group also called for the release of prisoners held at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.

The statement said the office in Qatar would help the group “reach an understanding with the international community.” However, it made no mention of the Afghan government, which the Taliban has called a “puppet regime.”

The United States said Tuesday that the Taliban move to open a liaison office in Qatar “could play a positive role in ending the war in Afghanistan.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington did not receive formal notification of Taliban plans, but the Obama administration is willing to support the move if it is part of Afghan-led reconciliation. She stressed, however, that the new office will only make a difference if Taliban leaders meet the Afghan government's conditions for reconciliation.

Media reports have quoted U.S. officials as saying that Washington is open to negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban, and that a possible deal could include the transfer of Taliban prisoners.

Afghan officials originally resisted the idea of a Taliban liaison office in Qatar, and the assassination of President Hamid Karzai's peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani in September appeared to seriously set back efforts to reach a peace deal.