Taliban ready for second round of talks with US

One of the officials said the meeting ended with a plan to meet again in September. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Taliban ready for second round of talks with US

  • Taliban officials recounted details of a meeting held in July with Alice Wells, Washington’s top envoy to the region
  • One of the officials said the meeting ended with a plan to meet again in September

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban are ready for a second round of talks with the US, possibly this month, which is likely to focus on prisoner exchange, confidence building measures, and ways to move from back-door meetings to formal negotiations, said Taliban officials in separate interviews in recent days.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, Taliban officials recounted details of a meeting held in July with Alice Wells, Washington’s top envoy to the region.

One of the officials said the meeting ended with a plan to meet again in September. The US has refused to confirm or deny that meeting.

Both the US and Afghan government have insisted that talks on Afghanistan’s future would be Afghan-led, while direct talks between Washington and the Taliban — which the insurgents have long demanded — are said to be a stepping stone toward Afghan-to-Afghan talks. The Taliban have sought direct talks to settle US concerns about the Taliban’s participation in Afghanistan’s future as well as the presence of NATO and the US in the country.

The official, who spoke to The Associated Press from Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, said they are waiting on Washington for a second meeting date.

During the July meeting, the Taliban asked for recognition of their political office in the Qatar capital of Doha as well as an end to restrictions against its top leaders before the start of the formal negotiations, they said.

The Taliban repeated their longstanding demand for the release of its prisoners in jails in Afghanistan, claiming as many as 2,000 are being held.

Washington has long been demanding the release of prisoners held by the Taliban including American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, two professors at the American University in Kabul who were kidnapped in August 2016 as they returned to their compound.

In a statement posted on its official website, the Taliban last month took the unusual step of withdrawing security promises to the International Committee of the Red Cross, saying the ICRC had failed to help prisoners in Afghanistan’s Pul-e-Charkhi jail who were on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions.

The Taliban statement was unusual in that it was a rare time that the insurgent group threatened punitive action for alleged behavior that was not Taliban-specific, but rather a general condemnation for a job it said was being poorly done.

The same statement warned all international organizations operating in Afghanistan to “understand that if they indulge in trivial or other irrelevant activities instead of focusing on the main needs of the oppressed people, the Islamic Emirate will treat them in a similar fashion as the decision taken against the Red Cross.”

Meanwhile, Taliban officials said talks between the US and Taliban are at a preliminary stage, still sorting out the simplest of details such as an agenda of formal talks, where those talks might be conducted and who would participate.

Still, Taliban officials said the July meeting covered a gambit of issues ranging from a US request for a two-month cease fire to allow for peaceful parliamentary elections scheduled for next month in Kabul, to a visit by Taliban officials to prisoners in government custody. No agreement was reached on either.

Taliban officials said the details of the July meeting were shared with the Taliban leadership council representative Nooruddin Turabi, who traveled to Qatar for the briefing. It wasn’t clear from where Turabi travelled but the leadership council is believed to be headquartered in Pakistan, even as Islamabad denies providing the insurgents with safe havens.

During the Taliban rule that ended in 2001 with the US-led invasion Turabi served as justice minister as well as the much-feared Minister of Protection of Virtue and Suppression of Vice.


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.