US to meet Taliban for high-level talks

·2-min read

A United States delegation will meet with senior Taliban representatives in Doha in their first face-to-face meeting at a senior level since Washington pulled its troops from Afghanistan and the hardline group took over the country, two senior administration officials told Reuters.

The high-level US delegation will include officials from the State Department, USAID and the US intelligence community, will press the Taliban to ensure continued safe passage for US citizens and others out of Afghanistan and to release kidnapped US citizen Mark Frerichs, the officials said.

Another top priority will be to hold the Taliban to its commitment that it will not allow Afghanistan to again become a hotbed for al Qaeda or other extremists while pressing the group to improve access for humanitarian aid as the country faces the prospect of a "really severe and probably impossible to prevent" economic contraction, US officials said..

"This meeting is a continuation of the pragmatic engagements with the Taliban that we've had ongoing on matters of vital national interest," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"This meeting is not about granting recognition or conferring legitimacy. We remain clear that any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban's own actions. They need to establish a sustained track record," the official said.

The US' two decades-long occupation of Afghanistan culminated in a hastily organised airlift in August which saw more than 124,000 civilians including Americans, Afghans and others being evacuated as the Taliban took over. But thousands of other US-allied Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution were left behind.

Washington and other Western countries are grappling with difficult choices as a severe humanitarian crisis looms large over Afghanistan. They are trying to formulate how to engage with the Taliban without granting it the legitimacy it seeks while ensuring humanitarian aid flows into the country.

Many Afghans have started selling their possessions to pay for ever-scarcer food.

The departure of US-led forces and many international donors robbed the country of grants that financed 75 per cent of public spending, according to the World Bank.

While there was an improvement for humanitarian actors get access to some areas that they haven't been in a decade, problems still persisted, the US official said, adding that the US delegation would press Taliban to improve.

"Right now, we are facing some real access issues....There are a lot of challenges in ensuring that female aid workers are provided unimpeded access to all areas," the official said and added that Washington needed to see an improvement by the Taliban on this front "if we are to contemplate even more robust humanitarian assistance."

The meetings will take place on Saturday and Sunday.

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