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.


British envoy denies Iran summons over tanker attacks claim

Updated 16 June 2019
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British envoy denies Iran summons over tanker attacks claim

  • “I asked for an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday and it was granted. No ‘summons’,” he said
  • Iran’s foreign ministry said the head of its European affairs Mahmoud Barimani met Macaire on Saturday

TEHRAN: Britain’s ambassador to Iran on Sunday denied he was summoned by the Iranian foreign ministry after London accused Tehran of “almost certainly” being responsible for tanker attacks in the Gulf.
“Interesting. And news to me,” ambassador Rob Macaire said in a tweet a day after the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement that it had summoned the envoy over his government’s accusations.
“I asked for an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday and it was granted. No ‘summons’. Of course if formally summoned I would always respond, as would all Ambassadors,” Macaire wrote.
Iran’s foreign ministry said the head of its European affairs Mahmoud Barimani met Macaire on Saturday and “strongly protested against the unacceptable and anti-Iranian positions of the British government.”
On Friday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said London had concluded Iran was “almost certainly” responsible for Thursday’s tanker attacks.
He was echoing remarks by US President Donald Trump who said Thursday’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman had Iran “written all over it.”
Iran has denied any involvement in the twin attacks.
It dismissed Hunt’s accusations as “false” and chided London for its “blind and precipitous alignment” with US views, according to the foreign ministry.
The latest incident comes as ties between Tehran and London have been strained in recent months, namely over the fate of a British-Iranian mother jailed in Iran on sedition charges.
London has repeatedly called for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in April 2016 as she was leaving Iran after taking their infant daughter to visit her family.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year sentence for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government, has begun a hunger strike in protest at her detention, her husband said on Saturday.
She previously went on hunger strike in January.
Richard Ratcliffe urged the Iranian authorities to immediately release his wife and to allow the British embassy to check on her health, and also asked they grant him a visa to visit her.
On Saturday he also stood outside Iran’s London embassy and said he would maintain his own hunger strike and vigil for as long as his wife refused food.