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Afghanistan

Karzai discusses Afghan peace process in Qatar

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has held talks with the Qatari government. Karzai was in the Gulf state reportedly to discuss the opening of a Taliban office there.

Karzai met on Sunday with ruling Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, after Kabul had agreed in principle to support the opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state, under the condition that the militant group severs ties with al Qaeda and ends its support for terrorism.

Although no details were released from Karzai's meeting with al-Thani, the Qatari state news agency QNA reported that the two leaders discussed “issues of mutual interest.” Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister were also present for the talks.

Prior to Karzai's departure for the Gulf state on Saturday, presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi had told the news agency AFP that the discussions would focus on peace talks with the Taliban.

“We will discuss the peace process, of course, and the opening of an office for the Taliban in Qatar,” Faizi told the AFP news agency.

Push for negotiated settlement

As NATO and international combat troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, the United States has launched a renewed push to conclude a negotiated settlement with the Taliban to end the 12-year war.

President Karzai has demanded that any settlement should result from direct talks between his government and the Taliban. Karzai had previously threatened to oppose the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar if Kabul was sidelined in negotiations.

But the Taliban, for its part, has rejected direct negotiations with the Karzai government. The Islamist militant group, which was ousted from power by the US-led invasion in 2001, considers Karzai's administration a puppet government and wants to talk directly with Washington.

Last Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, where he sought to smooth over tense relations with Karzai. The Afghan president had previously accused Washington of colluding with the Taliban to keep US troops on Afghan soil.

"I am confident the president (Karzai) does not believe the US has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace and that we are completely cooperative with the government of Afghanistan with respect to the protection of their efforts and their people," Kerry said during his visit to the country.

Washington and the Taliban had begun talks a year ago. But the Taliban suspended those discussions, accusing the US of sending mixed signals over the Afghan reconciliation process.

slk/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters)