WASHINGTON: The United States has noted Afghanistan’s absence from the three-nation Afghan peace talks held in Moscow last week but hoped the meeting would lead to peace.

Pakistan, China and Russia held the three-ways talks in Moscow but failed to invite Afghanistan, earning a strong protest from Kabul.

At a news briefing in Washington on Tuesday afternoon, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States recognised Afghanistan’s right to hold all negotiations with other nations on issues that concerned the country and its people.

The US support to the Afghan government remained steadfast and Washington still believed that only an Afghan-led reconciliation process could bring peace to Afghanistan, he said.

“What we welcome is any international effort to help Afghanistan become secure and more prosperous. And we continue to support, as we always have, an Afghan-led reconciliation process,” said Mr Kirby when asked if the US supported the three-way talks.

“We still believe that’s the right way to go here, going forward. That hasn’t changed. And our support for President [Ashraf] Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah [Abdullah] remains steadfast.”

Mr Kirby also noted that as a nation-state Afghanistan “has every right and every responsibility, quite frankly, for the betterment of their own people to have, whether it’s multilateral or bilateral, discussions with neighbouring nations and nations that aren’t neighbouring”.

While responding to another question, he noted that the United States was also kept out of those talks. “We obviously weren’t there either, so I can’t speak to the specifics of this meeting,” he said.

The United Sates, however, welcomed any talks held to discuss “the same secure, safe, prosperous Afghanistan that we all want to see”. Such talks could be constructive if they came up with “ideas to pursue that, in keeping with mandates from the international community and in particular Nato”, he said.

In a statement issued after the Moscow talks, Russia, China and Pakistan expressed concern at the increasing influence of the militant Islamic State group in Afghanistan and over the deteriorating security situation in that country.

Responding to another question, Mr Kirby said he was aware of the Afghan government’s request to help remove national and international sanctions on a former warlord, Gulbadin Hekmatyar, who has now signed a peace deal with Kabul.

“Sanctions committee consultations are confidential and we don’t talk about them,” said the State Department official when asked if the US would help remove the sanctions.

Published in Dawn January 5th, 2017

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