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Kerry moves to placate Karzai

June 21, 2013
Afghan President Hamid Karzai. — File Photo
Afghan President Hamid Karzai. — File Photo

KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday mulled his response to US efforts to repair damaged ties after a public spat over the Taliban opening an office in Qatar for peace talks.

Mr Karzai and US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke twice by telephone after the Afghan government became enraged that the office was opened in a blaze of publicity and US officials were apparently about to arrive for talks.

The office used the formal name of “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” from the militants’ 1996-2001 government, and a Taliban spokesman at the opening press conference declined to say they supported the peace process.

“John Kerry assured that the Qatari government has removed the 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ sign from the Taliban office and the office is for peace talks only,” a statement from Mr Karzai’s office said late on Wednesday.

Mr Karzai told Mr Kerry that Afghan public opinion was “extremely negative” over the way in which the Taliban office had been unveiled in an event that many experts described as an international publicity coup for the militants.

With the US-led Nato combat mission due to end next year, US officials are determined to resume talks with the Taliban.

On Wednesday, Mr Karzai broke off ongoing Afghan-US talks on an agreement that would allow Washington to maintain soldiers in Afghanistan after the Nato combat mission ends.

The US State Department dismissed reports which said the United States had scheduled talks with the Taliban for this week.

“Reports of a meeting being scheduled or on the books aren’t accurate,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

“We are now in consultations with the Afghan leadership and the High Peace Council on how to move forward,” she said.

The High Peace Council is the Afghan government body in charge of leading peace efforts with the Taliban.

Asked when the US-Taliban talks would now take place, a source in Doha said “there is nothing scheduled that I am aware of”, and confirmed that meant they would not happen on Thursday.

A Taliban flag that had been hoisted at the Taliban office on Tuesday had been taken down and lay on the ground on Thursday, although it appeared still attached to a flagpole.

A name plate, inscribed “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” had also been removed from the outside of the building. But a similar plaque fixed onto a wall inside the building was still there on Thursday morning, witnesses said.—Agencies