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Russia backs plans for Afghanistan interim rule with Taliban

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Russia said Friday it backed the Taliban‘s integration into a future interim government in Afghanistan, as global powers ramped up efforts to secure a peace deal and end decades of war.

The foreign ministry’s comments come as a May deadline looms for the United States to end its two-decade military involvement in the ravaged country.

Washington has encouraged the Afghan leadership to work towards establishing an “inclusive” government and proposed talks with the Taliban to secure a peace accord.

“The formation of an interim inclusive administration would be a logical solution to the problem of integrating the Taliban into the peaceful political life of Afghanistan,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters ahead of talks next week in Moscow.

But she added that the decision should be made “by the Afghans themselves and should be resolved during negotiations on national reconciliation”.

US President Joe Biden is wrapping up a review on whether to stick to an agreement with the Taliban negotiated by his predecessor Donald Trump who wanted to pull out the final US troops from Afghanistan by May.

The so-called Doha Accord signed in the Qatari capital last year underscored Trump’s desire to end long-running US military involvement.

But the Biden administration has signalled that it wants to take a hard look at Trump’s deal and its repercussions for Afghanistan and regional stability.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter to Afghan leaders encouraging them to consider a “new, inclusive government.”

He also proposed that talks take place within weeks in Turkey to seal a comprehensive peace deal with the Taliban.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut said Friday that Ankara was ready to host such a meeting in April.

“Both the Taliban and the negotiation delegation, meaning the government side, had asked us to host such a meeting before,” the Anadolu state news agency quoted Cavusoglu as saying.

“We will do this (meeting) in coordination with brotherly Qatar,” he added in reference to a separate rounds of talks staged in Doha.

The scheduled US withdrawal is being complicated by a new surge in fighting and concern that a speedy exit may only unleash further chaos.

The 2020 Doha Accord says the Taliban promises not to allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists after the US withdrawal.

Blinken’s letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said bluntly that Washington feared the “security situation will worsen and the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains” if the United States suddenly withdrew.

Blinken proposed a 90-day reduction in violence that would avoid the Taliban’s annual bloody spring offensive.

He added that Washington was asking the United Nations to convene a meeting of foreign ministers from Afghanistan’s neighbours on ensuring future stability.

But the Afghan leadership has responded to Blinken’s letter with extreme caution.

Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh said the country’s fate could not be decided by “20 people in a room”.

Cavusoglu also signalled that he did not necessarily expect the Istanbul meeting to produce an immediate breakthrough.

“Our aim is to pursue negotiations between the Taliban and the government that are focused on a result,” the Anadolu state news agency quoted him as saying.

“Maybe a ceasefire can not be obtained but it is a continuing process,” he said.

“We are giving a message to the Taliban. We are saying them to end the attacks. We are telling them there can be no real negotiations while the attacks continue.”

Moscow is due to host talks next week between members of the Afghan government and the Taliban, the Kremlin‘s latest effort to cement its role as a broker in the conflict, decades after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ended.

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