Taliban seek venue change for peace talks with US

Members of Taliban delegation take their seats during the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow on November 9, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 06 January 2019
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Taliban seek venue change for peace talks with US

  • Leaders of the hardline Islamic militant group have rejected the Kabul government’s offer for direct talks
  • The Taliban want to change the venue for the talks to Qatar

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: The Taliban will not attend planned peace talks with the US in Saudi Arabia this month, and want to shift the venue to Qatar, Taliban officials said on Sunday, seeking to fend off Riyadh’s push to include the Afghan government in talks.
The upcoming negotiations, the fourth in a series aimed at ending the 17-year war in Afghanistan, are scheduled between the leaders of the Taliban and US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to discuss the withdrawal of foreign forces and a possible cease-fire in 2019.
Leaders of the hardline Islamic militant group have rejected the Kabul government’s offer for direct talks, despite growing international pressure in favor of the Western-backed Afghan government having a seat at the table.
“We were supposed to meet US officials in Riyadh next week and continue our peace process that remained incomplete in Abu Dhabi last month,” a senior Taliban member based in Afghanistan told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“The problem is that leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) wanted us to definitely meet the Afghan government delegation, which we cannot afford to do now, and we have canceled the meeting in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
The Taliban want to change the venue for the talks to Qatar, he said, the political headquarters of the militant group that is fighting to restore strict Islamic law in Afghanistan and the site for earlier talks.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the group has decided to cancel the meeting in Saudi Arabia, but did not provide information about a new meeting venue.
The US embassy in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another senior Taliban leader said the group had explained to Saudi Arabia that it was not possible for the Taliban to meet the Afghan government at this stage.
“Everyone is aware of the fact that the Afghan government wanted the US and its allies not to leave Afghanistan and we have paid a heavy price to expel all foreign forces from our country,” he said.
“Why should we talk to the Afghan government?”
The Taliban regards the US as its main adversary in the Afghan war and views direct talks with Washington as a legitimate effort to seek the withdrawal of foreign troops before engaging with the Afghan government.
The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington nearly a trillion dollars and killed tens of thousands of people.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have intensified since Taliban representatives began meeting with Khalilzad, an Afghan-born, US diplomat last year. Officials from the warring sides have met at least three times, but fighting has not subsided.


Some North Korean officials back at liaison office: Seoul

Updated 47 min ago
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Some North Korean officials back at liaison office: Seoul

  • North Korea has not clarified if all staff will officially return
  • The country pulled out its staff after collapse of nuclear summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump

SEOUL: South Korea said some North Korean officials returned to an inter-Korean liaison office on Monday, three days after the North abruptly withdrew its entire staff citing unspecified instructions from “higher-level authorities.”

It wasn’t immediately clear why North Korea sent some workers back to the office or whether it would restore a full staff. The North’s decision to withdraw its staff on Friday came a week after its vice foreign minister threatened to pull out of nuclear negotiations with the United States following the collapse of a nuclear summit last month between leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said in a statement that four to five North Korean officials showed up for work Monday at the liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and told South Korean officials they came to work their usual shifts.

The ministry said the North continues to provide no clear explanation on why it withdrew staff from the office. The North reportedly sent about 10 workers each working day to the office since it opened last September as part of a slew of reconciliation steps between the rivals agreed to by Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The Koreas in past months have dismantled some of their front-line guard posts, halted military exercises across their border and vowed to resume inter-Korean economic projects when possible, voicing optimism that international sanctions could end and allow such projects.

While Moon says inter-Korean reconciliation is crucial for achieving progress in nuclear negotiations, the breakdown of the Trump-Kim summit has created a difficult environment to push engagement with the North.

Washington and Pyongyang have struggled with the sequencing of North Korea’s nuclear disarmament and the removal of US-led sanctions against the North, and blamed each other for the collapse of the summit. North Korean state media have recently demanded that South Korea distance itself from the US and resume joint economic projects that have been held back by sanctions.