Khalilzad upbeat on chances for intra-Afghan peace talks

Afghan security forces keep watch at the side of bomb blast in Kabul last month. (Reuters/File photo)
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Updated 01 June 2020

Khalilzad upbeat on chances for intra-Afghan peace talks

  • Khalilzad said the US was trying to help resolve the prisoner issue

WASHINGTON: The US special envoy for Afghanistan sounded upbeat on Monday about the chances for peace talks starting between the Kabul government and the Taliban militant group but suggested further prisoner releases were needed first.
Speaking to reporters, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also sought to play down an independent UN experts report that ties between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remain close despite the Taliban’s pledge to cut such links.
Khalilzad, who helped broker a Feb. 29 US-Taliban troop withdrawal agreement, said the Afghan government has freed 2,400 to 2,500 Taliban prisoners since that pact was reached and the militant group has freed more than 400 government detainees in return.
“We are in a good place,” Khalilzad said, adding that levels of violence in Afghanistan have remained relatively low since May’s Eid Al-Fitr cease-fire. “We are optimistic that finally we’re moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Under the US-Taliban deal — to which the Afghan government was not a party — the United States committed to reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan to 8,600 troops by mid-July and, conditions permitting, to zero by May 2021. US troop strength already is down to nearly 8,600, US and NATO officials said last week.
Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 government prisoners were to have been freed by March 10, when talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban were to have begun.
Khalilzad said the United States was trying to help resolve the prisoner issue and “we are hoping that violence will stay low. So with the release of prisoners, we can begin inter-Afghan negotiations.”


US to pay over $1bn for 100m doses of J&J’s potential COVID-19 vaccine

Updated 05 August 2020

US to pay over $1bn for 100m doses of J&J’s potential COVID-19 vaccine

  • The latest contract equates to roughly $10 per vaccine dose produced by J&J
  • This is J&J’s first deal to supply its investigational vaccine to a country

WASHINGTON: The United States government will pay Johnson & Johnson over $1 billion for 100 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine, its latest such arrangement as the race to tame the pandemic intensifies, the drugmaker said on Wednesday.
It said it would deliver the vaccine to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) on a not-for-profit basis to be used after approval or emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
J&J has already received $1 billion in funding from the US government — BARDA agreed in March to provide that money for the company to build manufacturing capacity for more than 1 billion doses of the experimental vaccine.
The latest contract equates to roughly $10 per vaccine dose produced by J&J. Including the first $1 billion deal with the USgovernment, the price would be slightly higher than the $19.50 per dose that the United States is paying for the vaccine being developed by Pfizer Inc. and German biotech BioNTech SE.
The US government may also purchase an additional 200 million doses under a subsequent agreement. J&J did not disclose that deal’s value.
J&J plans to study a one- or two-dose regimen of the vaccine in parallel later this year. A single-shot regimen could allow more people to be vaccinated with the same number of doses and would sidestep issues around getting people to come back for their second dose.
This is J&J’s first deal to supply its investigational vaccine to a country. Talks are underway with the European Union, but no deal has yet been reached.
J&J’s investigational vaccine is currently being tested on healthy volunteers in the United States and Belgium in an early-stage study.
There are currently no approved vaccines for COVID-19. More than 20 are in clinical trials.