US declines invitation to Russia-led talks on Afghanistan
The United States has rejected an invitation to join Russia-led talks on Afghanistan because they are unlikely to help bring peace, a State Department spokesman said on Wednesday, as the Trump administration prepared to appoint a diplomatic veteran as a new special envoy for the war-battered nation.
Russia said that the Taliban will be joining the Sept. 4 talks in Moscow, along with representatives of several neighbouring countries. It will be one of the insurgent group's biggest diplomatic forays since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sibghatullah Ahmadi told The Associated Press in Kabul that the government will not attend the meeting in Moscow, saying the peace process should be Afghan-led. He also said that "a peace process without the cooperation of the Afghan government would not be successful."
The State Department official said that as a matter of principle, the US supports Afghan-led efforts to advance a peace settlement. And, based on previous Russia-led meetings on Afghanistan, the Moscow talks are "unlikely to yield any progress toward that end." The spokesman was not authorized to be quoted by name and requested anonymity.
That decision comes as the Taliban escalates attacks across Afghanistan. It has refused direct talks with Kabul, even as it seeks to raises its diplomatic profile in the region and calls for talks with the US which it views as the real power behind the Afghan government. The insurgent group has yet to respond to President Ashraf Ghani's offer earlier this week of a conditional cease-fire for the duration of the Eid al-Adha religious holiday that began Tuesday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intends to appoint a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, to a special envoy post that would deal with the Afghan-Taliban peace process and Afghanistan's integration into the administration's Indo-Pacific strategy, according to two US officials and a congressional aide briefed on the plan.
Khalilzad, who did not respond to queries about his potential new role, is expected to visit South Asia soon, according to the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A native of Afghanistan who was educated at the American University in Beirut and the University of Chicago, Khalilzad is a diplomatic veteran in Republican foreign policy circles and has also served as US ambassador to Iraq and the United Nations. He was considered for secretary of state by the Trump transition team, notably after introducing then-candidate Donald Trump at his first major foreign policy speech during the campaign.
Despite escalating violence in Afghanistan, the top US commander there said Wednesday that the US-led coalition sees hope in Taliban statements in recent months indicating interest in a negotiations to end the 17-year war, and Afghan public and religious clerics' desire for peace. He contended that could lead to political reconciliation.