WASHINGTON, June 19 (RIA Novosti) – The United States scrambled Wednesday to salvage plans to bring the Taliban into Afghan peace talks while Russia threw its support squarely behind President Hamid Karzai after he angrily cancelled crucial security talks with Washington.
Speaking at a news conference in Germany, President Barack Obama acknowledged early “friction” in the US overture to the Taliban while officials in Washington admitted that a planned trip by a senior US official to Qatar to meet Taliban representatives, announced just a day earlier, was now on hold.
“This is going to be a difficult process,” Obama said at a news conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“The parties there have been fighting for a very long time. And we don’t expect that it will be easy” for representatives of the Karzai government and the Taliban to begin peace talks as sought by Washington, he said.
Obama’s comments came after Karzai, reportedly incensed at the sudden elevation in diplomatic status of the Taliban, announced he was suspending the fourth round of Afghan-US talks on a Bilateral Security Agreement that would govern a security transition for the country after the withdrawal of US forces.
The United States confirmed that part of the problem was the “roll-out” of a new representative office for the Taliban in Doha, which was intended as a venue outside Afghanistan for discussions between representatives of the United States, the Taliban and the Afghan government.
That office was opened Tuesday bearing the name “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – a wording suggestive of an entity with a diplomatic status akin to statehood – in what the United States said was a breach of terms that had been agreed with the Taliban, and which apparently infuriated Karzai.
“We do not recognize the name ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington. She said the name of the office was supposed to have been “The Political Office of the Afghan Taliban” and added that steps had been taken to rectify that problem.
Psaki, who on Tuesday announced that a senior State Department official was to depart that day on a trip to include talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar, also said Wednesday that the official, James Dobbins, had not left Washington as planned and indicated his trip was on hold.
“There are clearly things that did not go as planned,” Psaki admitted at a briefing under intense questioning from journalists seeking clarification on how the US plan to start talks with the Taliban, announced prominently on Tuesday, had run into major obstacles in the space of one day.
“We knew this would be a bumpy road and a bumpy process,” she said. “That’s exactly what it is.”
In Moscow meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement voicing its unequivocal support for Karzai.
“We affirm that the Russian Federation is consistently supporting the efforts of the Afghan government aimed at the success of the national reconciliation process and the creation of conditions for long-term stabilization in the country and the region,” the Russian statement said.
The United States went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, accusing the Taliban regime in charge of the country at the time of aiding and abetting Al Qaeda, which had training camps in Afghanistan and which claimed responsibility for the attacks on the United States.
Karzai, a crucial US ally when the war began but who in recent years has been in frequent disagreements with Washington, has taken a dim view of the new US effort to include the Taliban in peace talks and has insisted the Taliban must accept the Afghan constitution before any discussions can start.
Russia, also at the center of a decade-long war between the former Soviet Union and Afghanistan, has generally supported the US military presence in the country and has offered the United States and other NATO forces vital help in providing transport alternatives to Pakistan for military force withdrawals.