Russia to host another round of talks on Afghanistan

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia said Tuesday it will host a round of talks on Afghanistan that will bring together representatives of the government and the Taliban, marking an attempt by Moscow to raise its profile in the Afghan peace efforts.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the talks scheduled for March 18 will bring together representatives of Russia, the U.S., China and Pakistan, as well as an Afghan government delegation and representatives of the Taliban. Qatar, which has hosted Afghan peace talks, has been invited to the Moscow meeting as an honored guest.

Zakharova said the negotiations will focus on “ways to help advance inter-Afghan talks in Doha, reduce the level of violence and end the armed conflict in Afghanistan and help it develop as an independent, peaceful and self-sufficient state that would be free from terrorism and drug trafficking.”

Moscow’s attempt at mediation comes as talks in Doha between the Afghan government and the Taliban have stalled. Washington and Kabul have been pressing for a cease-fire while the Taliban say they will negotiate it as part of peace talks with the Afghan government.

Under a February 2020 deal that the Trump administration signed with the Taliban, Washington committed to a May 1 withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan — which, after 20 years, has become America’s longest conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a recent letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that the May 1 deadline for the U.S. troop pullout is still on the table. The letter proposed a revised plan for a 90-day reduction in violence that would prevent the start of a spring offensive by the Taliban and would be followed by a permanent cease-fire laid out in a draft peace agreement.

The draft that the U.S. has presented to Afghanistan’s warring sides for review outlines the terms of a cease-fire and its enforcement, calls for the protection of the rights of women, children and minorities and envisions a truth and reconciliation commission.

Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator in Afghanistan, reaching out to feuding factions as it jockeys with Washington for influence in the country. In 2019, it hosted talks between various Afghan factions.

Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan, said in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency that the meeting in Moscow “aims to give an impulse, an impetus so that substantive talks and not just contacts would begin in Doha.”

“We will discuss prospects for a settlement in Afghanistan and reaching solutions,” Kabulov said, adding that it would be up to representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban to decide if they want to have a separate meeting directly.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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