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Kerry: Taleban office may shut if Afghan talks bid fails

DOHA: The United States warned yesterday that it could call on the Taleban to close an office in Qatar unless it shows more commitment to reconciliation in Afghanistan.
US special envoy James Dobbins arrived in the Gulf Arab nation and was taking part in talks with Qatar alongside Secretary of State John Kerry.
But Kerry said that the United States was not yet ready to meet the Taleban and accused them of failing to live up to their side of peace efforts.
“It is our hope that this could ultimately be an important step in reconciliation if it’s possible. We know that it may well not be possible,” Kerry told reporters in Doha.
The opening of the Taleban office was heralded as the best chance of bringing to a peaceful end 12 years of bloody war despite its rocky beginnings. But the peace process ran aground almost immediately when Kabul objected to the wording of its name, saying it was tantamount to the establishment of a rival government office, not a political office.
Under pressure from host nation Qatar, the Taleban removed the sign and lowered their flag out of public view on Wednesday.
“There is an internal discussion right now and much anger about it but we have not yet decided what action to take,” Shaheen Suhail, the Taleban’s spokesman in Qatar told The Associated Press. “But I think it weakens the process from the very beginning.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai reacted furiously Tuesday to the sign, temporarily withdrawing from talks and put a quick end to negotiations with the United States over a security accord that is to lay out protection for US forces that will remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO combat troops at the end of 2014.
A Qatar Foreign Ministry statement said the Taleban had violated an agreement to call the office the “Political Bureau of the Taleban Afghan in Doha.” The Obama administration also said the US and Qatar never had agreed to allow the Taleban to use that name on the door.
But Suhail said the incident has frustrated and angered some within the militant movement who said the Taleban have been meeting with representatives of dozens of countries and holding secret one-on-one meetings with members of Karzai’s High Peace Council on several occasions, always under the banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
“Now the process is being weakened at the beginning and not being given a chance,” he said. “This is very bad for the Afghan people, for the international community.”
In Kabul, a member of the government’s negotiation team said it was still prepared to begin talks in Qatar and said the removal of the sign and flag was a positive sign.
High Peace Council member Shahzada Shahid told The Associated Press yesterday that it was too early to say when the council would travel to Qatar for talks. He also welcomed the participation of countries in the international coalition in Afghanistan.