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Taleban delegation to attend Afghanistan peace meeting hosted by Russia

Kabul - US envoy plans to attend peace conference.

By Reuters

Published: Mon 15 Mar 2021, 10:47 PM

The Taleban will send a 10-person delegation to an Afghanistan peace meeting hosted by Russia this week, the insurgent group's spokesman said on Monday.

The delegation will be led by Mullah Baradar, the Taleban's deputy leader and chief negotiator in US-brokered talks in Qatar, spokesman Mohammad Naeem said in a statement.

The Russian-backed conference is scheduled for March 18, one of a number of diplomatic initiatives to attempt to jumpstart the stalling Afghan peace process. The Afghan government confirmed on Saturday it would participate in the conference.

The US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has this month been travelling around the region trying to shake up the peace process and spark progress as a troop withdrawal deadline nears and Washington reviews its policy for Afghanistan. A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Khalilzad had met with Ghani in Kabul on Monday and updated him on his recent trips. Khalilzad had previously been in Doha, where negotiations are taking place, and also visited Pakistan.

Khalilzad has also proposed a meeting among main players to be held in Turkey with heavy United Nations involvement next month. The Afghan government has said they would take part in that conference, but the Taleban has not yet confirmed whether they would attend.

It comes at a crunch time for the peace process as a May 1 deadline for foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan looms. US President Joe Biden's administration, which is reviewing arrangements including a deal with the Taleban made under his predecessor, Donald Trump, has said all options remain on the table.

Peace talks have failed to gain momentum since starting in September with both sides yet to agree on an agenda, while violence has risen.

On Monday, a blast tore through a minivan in Kabul, according to police who said 15 civilians were injured. It was not clear who was behind the blast.

US envoy plans to attend peace conference

Khalilzad plans to attend a March 18 conference in Moscow on accelerating the Afghanistan peace process, deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said on Monday.

The conference will "compliment all other international efforts to support the Afghanistan peace process and also reflects the international community's concerns about progress to date," she told a news briefing.

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