US, Taliban resume peace talks after three-month lull

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is also trying to lay the groundwork for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict. (Reuters)
Updated 08 December 2019

US, Taliban resume peace talks after three-month lull

  • Move to end decades-old conflict plaguing Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban and the US restarted their formal peace negotiations on Saturday, the first such initiative of its kind since President Donald Trump’s decision to call off the talks in early September, an American official privy to the developments told Arab News.

Trump abandoned the talks after 12 people, including a US soldier, were killed by a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.

“The US rejoined talks today in Doha. The focus of the discussions will be reduction of violence that leads to intra-Afghan negotiations and a cease-fire,” the official said.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen also confirmed that the talks had been resumed.

In a tweet, he added that the head of the Taliban’s political office, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, represented the insurgents in the negotiations.

“The talks started from where they were stopped. We discussed signing of the agreement. Talks will continue tomorrow (Sunday),” he said.

Anas Haqqani, brother of the Taliban’s deputy chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, has joined the talks as a member of the negotiating team. Anas was one of three Taliban leaders freed in a prisoner swap on Nov. 19.

The peace talks are aimed at striking a deal with the Taliban to allow US and foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for the insurgents’ guarantee to provide security.

Earlier on Wednesday, the State Department had said that US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, would be discussing the next steps with the Taliban for the intra-Afghan negotiations and “a peaceful settlement of the war, specifically a reduction in violence that leads to a cease-fire.”

It followed Khalilzad’s meetings with Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and several political leaders in Kabul on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the presidential palace issued a statement saying that the meeting would focus on “the cease-fire and Taliban hideouts outside the country.”

President Ghani told Khalilzad that both issues should be taken seriously to take the peace process forward.

The Taliban and the US had finalized the peace agreement in August — at the conclusion of the ninth round of talks –but the signing of the deal was blocked after Trump’s abrupt decision to call off the negotiations.

However, in conversation with American troops at the Bagram Air Base last week, Trump said that the Taliban wanted a deal and had also agreed to a cease-fire.

Jailed UK-Iranian Zaghari-Ratcliffe is ‘chess piece’: husband

Updated 34 min 59 sec ago

Jailed UK-Iranian Zaghari-Ratcliffe is ‘chess piece’: husband

  • Ratcliffe said there was a 'gap' between him and the government over its tactics
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016

LONDON: The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman jailed in Tehran, on Thursday said his wife was being used as a “chess piece,” following talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Speaking from Downing Street after his meeting, Richard Ratcliffe said there was a “gap” between him and the government over its tactics.
“I think there remains that gap between my sense that the government needs to be tougher with Iran, alongside improving relations generally, and the Foreign Office instinct to not have things escalate,” he told reporters.
“I don’t think I have come away thinking Nazanin is coming out tomorrow or even next week.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 after visiting relatives in Iran with her young daughter.
She worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation — the media organization’s philanthropic arm — at the time.
Her family say Johnson jeopardized her case by mischaracterizing her job at the time.
Iranian authorities convicted her of sedition — a charge Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always contested — and she is serving a five-year jail term.
Her case has unfolded amid escalating tensions between Tehran and the West, particularly the United States and Britain.
But Ratcliffe believes it is particularly linked to London’s failure to return £400 million ($500 million, 450 million euros) owed to Tehran for a 1970s tank deal.
Ratcliffe said Thursday that his wife was “being held hostage” and used as a “chess piece.”
“That wasn’t disputed in there,” he said. “The UK obviously is wary of that tightrope it is walking between the US and Europe in Iran relations.
“I was saying ‘I think this is different’. This is a global norm, that actually we all uphold universal values where hostage-taking shouldn’t be happening.”
Ratcliffe had previously blamed Johnson for making his wife’s case worse by mistakenly stating, when he was foreign minister, that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists while visiting Iran.
The pair “didn’t talk about the past” on Thursday, he said.
Johnson “was very clear that he was committed in what he was doing... and that if there was anything they could do almost within reason, that they were ready to do it,” Ratcliffe added.
“I don’t doubt his personal commitment to Nazanin.”