Afghanistan will work to make peace with Taliban: FM
WASHINGTON – (VNS) Afghanistan will work "vigorously" to seek peace with the Taliban, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul vowed on Wednesday as the US said the door was still open to the insurgents to hold talks.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also pledged the United States would stand by Afghanistan as it seeks to emerge from decades of war, even after all US and NATO combat troops have left the country by late 2014.
The two leaders were meeting to set up a new commission which will help steer future US-Afghan ties as American and NATO combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
"We know that difficult days lie ahead. But despite the challenges, the United States is committed to the people of Afghanistan and we have made progress together that too often is overlooked," Clinton said.
She pointed to progress in areas such as health and education, women's rights, democracy and bringing electricity to the Afghan people.
"The United States has made an enduring commitment to Afghanistan that was forged in sacrifice," she said, adding the US has "invested a great deal in Afghanistan" pointing to the more than 2,000 US troops who have died there. "Now as partners we look to the future," Clinton added at the launch of a new bilateral commission set up "to guide the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, as we move to the next phase of our relationship." Wednesday's talks discussed specific steps to implement the new strategic partnership accord between the two nations to supersede the current status of forces agreement.
The United States appointed deputy envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan James Warlick to lead the negotiations on the US side. Afghan Ambassador to the US Eklil Hakimi will head up the Afghan team.
But the talks come amid reports that the United States is scaling back plans to try to end the war by facilitating Afghan peace talks.
Instead the fledgling talks would be left in the hands of the Afghan government, military and diplomatic officials told The New York Times, adding it seemed unlikely there would be any significant progress until after 2014.
"I don't see it happening in the next couple years," a senior coalition officer told the Times on Tuesday.
"It's a very resilient enemy, and I'm not going to tell you it's not," the officer said. "It will be a constant battle, and it will be for years."
Rassoul vowed on Wednesday that "negotiating a comprehensive bilateral security agreement between our two countries of satisfaction to both sides is of paramount importance."
And he stressed: "We will continue to pursue the peace process vigorously. This is the just and deserving right of the Afghan people and the surest path to ending the cycle of violence in Afghanistan."
Nascent contacts between the Taliban, the Afghan government and the United States earlier this year in Qatar were suspended after a deal to exchange Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay fell apart.
But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland insisted the Taliban could still return to the negotiating table.
"They've got an open door to it. It's now for the Taliban to decide if they want to take advantage of it," Nuland told reporters, adding Washington fully backed an Afghan-led process.
"They themselves made an announcement back in March that they were suspending participation. And so... they've got to make the decision whether they're going to take advantage of the opportunities that are open to them." Contacts in recent years between the Taliban and the West designed to avert civil war once NATO combat troops leave Afghanistan have yet to yield a concrete agreement. -- AFP