Afghan Taliban prepare for new peace talks with US

The Taliban delegation at the planned upcoming meeting would be led by the head of the group’s Qatar-based political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018
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Afghan Taliban prepare for new peace talks with US

  • The Taliban delegation at the planned upcoming meeting would be led by the head of the group’s Qatar-based political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai
  • The Taliban would like to discuss an exchange of prisoners and could hold another meeting soon if the United States showed seriousness in talks by releasing prisoners

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: The Taliban are preparing to send a delegation for further talks with US officials about ending the conflict in Afghanistan, two officials involved with the process said on Tuesday, adding that the meeting could address a possible prisoner swap.
The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Taliban leaders were meeting to discuss the makeup of the three- or four-person delegation and the subjects to be discussed.
They said the Taliban would like to discuss an exchange of prisoners and could hold another meeting soon if the United States showed seriousness in talks by releasing prisoners.
“This meeting will determine the future talks and we would see if the US is serious and sincere in negotiation,” one of the officials involved said.
“We would hand over a list of prisoners languishing in jails across Afghanistan. If they set free our prisoners then we would meet again for another great cause.”
If confirmed, the meeting would follow an earlier round of talks in Doha in July, where Taliban officials met Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia at the US State Department.
The Taliban delegation at the planned upcoming meeting would be led by the head of the group’s Qatar-based political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, the officials said.
However they said the high command was planning to replace Stanakzai, who has been serving as interim head, with a new permanent head of the Qatar office.
“You may know Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai was deputed in the Qatar office on acting charge basis. The top leadership is now planning to appoint someone else in his place,” one said.
Hopes that peace talks to end the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan have stuttered in recent months, following the failure to agree a repeat of the unprecedented Eid cease-fire in June which saw unarmed Taliban fighters mingling with security forces in Kabul and other cities.
Over the past year, the United States has stepped up air strikes against the Taliban and boosted training for Afghan forces. However US officials say the goal is to reach a negotiated, Afghan-led settlement to end the war.
On the Taliban side, the assault on the strategic city of Ghazni last month that killed hundreds of soldiers, police and civilians underlined the insurgents’ determination to increase pressure on the Western-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster at the hands of US-led troops, have maintained their refusal to negotiate directly with the internationally recognized Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime put in place by foreign powers and say they will only talk to the United States.
As the push for talks has picked up following the Eid cease-fire in June, the United States has agreed to participate directly and has appointed former US ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad as special envoy to reinforce the effort.


UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination

Updated 19 September 2018
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UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination

  • Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016
  • France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June

LONDON: Britain on Wednesday advised British-Iranian dual nationals against all but essential travel to Iran, tightening up its existing travel advice and warning it has only limited powers to support them if detained.

The advisory came in tandem with France’s decision to hold off on appointing a new ambassador to Iran, as it seeks clarification over an attempt to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June

“The Foreign Secretary (Jeremy Hunt) has taken the decision to advise against all but essential travel by UK-Iranian dual nationals to Iran,” a foreign office spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
“British citizens who also hold Iranian nationality face risks if they travel to Iran, as we have seen all too sadly in a number of cases. The Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality, so if a dual national is detained our ability to provide support is extremely limited.”
Earlier this month Britain’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt used a visit to Iran to discuss cases of detained dual nationals, alongside other diplomatic issues.
Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she headed back to Britain with her daughter, now aged four, after a family visit.
She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.
Meanwhile, France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris last June, French officials said on Wednesday.
An Iranian diplomat based in Austria and three other people were arrested on suspicion of plotting the attack on a meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Iran has said it had nothing to do with the plot, which it called a “false flag” operation staged by figures within the opposition group itself.
The incident has hit relations just as France and its European partners are seeking to salvage a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.
France’s ambassador to Iran departed in the summer. Iran has also yet to replace its departed ambassador to Paris.
“We have a charge d’affaires today in Tehran and there is a high-level dialogue between French and Iranian authorities,” said a French presidential source.
“We are working together to bring to light what happened around this event ... I wouldn’t say there is a direct link (in not appointing an ambassador), but Iran has promised to give us objective facts in the coming weeks that would allow us to pursue our diplomatic relationship as it is today.”
A French diplomatic source said the nomination had indeed been suspended as a result of the alleged plot.
France’s Foreign Ministry in August told its diplomats and officials to postpone non-essential travel to Iran indefinitely, citing the plot and a hardening of Tehran’s attitude toward France, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
President Emmanuel Macron is likely to discuss the issue with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when they meet on Sept. 25 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the source said.
Along with Britain and Germany, France is trying save a 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which was thrown into disarray when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord in May and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran.
Even so, tensions between Paris and Tehran have grown in recent months as Macron and his government have become increasingly frustrated with Iran’s activities in the Middle East region, in particular its ballistic missile program.