US delegation meets with Taliban representatives in Doha

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN

(CNN) – A US delegation was due to meet with “senior representatives of the Kabul Taliban” in Doha, Qatar this weekend, a State Department official said ahead of the meeting, the first of its kind since American withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August.

“This meeting is a continuation of pragmatic engagement with the Taliban on issues of vital national interest to the United States,” the official told CNN..

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters on Saturday: “We have had a detailed discussion with the US delegation in Doha, and this discussion will continue throughout the day today and tomorrow as well.”

“During this meeting, discussions were also held on humanitarian aid and this discussion will continue,” Mujahid said.

The meeting comes as the US government continues its efforts to drive vulnerable US citizens, permanent residents and Afghans out of the country almost six weeks after the hasty and chaotic military evacuation and withdrawal from the United States ended, and as he looks to the horizon capabilities to prevent a resurgence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

The State Department official said that “the continued safe passage out of Afghanistan of US and foreign nationals and Afghans to whom we have a special commitment who seek to leave the country” is one of the key issues. priorities for the meeting, which was first reported by Reuters.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told a news briefing on Thursday that the agency was in contact with “dozens of Americans in Afghanistan who wish to leave,” but added that it was difficult to accurately quantify the remaining US citizens. He said the US government directly facilitated the departure of 105 US citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents of Afghanistan since August 31, when all US forces and personnel withdrew from the country.

At the Doha meeting, the United States would prioritize “maintaining the Taliban in its commitment not to allow terrorists to use Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States or its allies,” said the manager earlier this week.

CIA Deputy Director David Cohen would be part of the US delegation, a source said ahead of the meeting, reflecting the US focus on combating terrorism.

Deputy Special Representative for Reconciliation in Afghanistan Tom West is the State Department’s senior representative in the US delegation, the State Department official said, who noted that the group includes representatives from the agency. American for International Development and others. The familiar source said USAID’s top humanitarian official Sarah Charles was to be part of the delegation.

The special representative for reconciliation in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the March 2020 agreement with the Taliban which was decried by officials of the Biden administration, will not be present.

According to the State Department official, the United States also intended to push the Taliban “to respect the rights of all Afghans, including women and girls, and to form an inclusive government with broad support. “.

“As Afghanistan faces the prospect of a severe economic contraction and possible humanitarian crisis, we will also pressure the Taliban to allow humanitarian agencies free access to areas in need. “, said the official.

Since the Taliban took control of the country, they have been accused of serious human rights abuses, including the unlawful killing of 13 Hazara Shiite minorities. Afghanistan’s health system has collapsed and there are severe food shortages.

The official told CNN that the meeting with representatives of the Taliban “is not intended to grant recognition or confer legitimacy.”

“We remain clear that all legitimacy must be earned by the Taliban’s own actions,” they said.

Mujahid added on Saturday: “Our goal is to have further meetings with the Americans and also with the European delegates in the coming days, so that we can discuss and have their views and suggestions on the current situation in Afghanistan. . “

“We have told them time and time again that a weak and unstable government in Afghanistan is not in anyone’s best interests,” he said.

This story was updated with additional information on Saturday.

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