The Biden administration held its first direct in-person meeting with the Taliban since it reclaimed Afghanistan caused by President Biden’s botched withdrawal of U.S. troops, with officials calling the discussion with the Islamist insurgent group “candid and professional.”
The two-day meeting was held over the weekend in Doha, Qatar, with the U.S. delegation, including members of the government’s intelligence community, the State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) met with senior Taliban representatives. The high-level discussions ahead of the talks were said for U.S. officials to focus on top priority, such as seeking to hold the Taliban to their commitment to allow Americans and other foreign nationals allies out of Afghanistan as well as pressing the group into releasing the kidnapped U.S. citizen, Mark Frerichs.
Another top priority would be to hold the Taliban to its commitment not to allow Afghanistan to become a hotbed for al Qaeda or other extremists once again while also pressing the Islamic group to improve access for humanitarian aid as the country faces the prospect of a “really severe and probably impossible to prevent” economic contraction.
According to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of the meeting said the “meeting is a continuation of the pragmatic engagements with the Taliban that we’ve had ongoing on matters of vital national interest.”
“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.
State Department spokesman Ned Price released a statement Monday, praising the weekend discussions with the Taliban as “candid and professional.”
“The U.S. delegation focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals, and our Afghan partners, as well as on human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society,” Price said in a statement.
Price noted that the U.S has also agreed to offer “robust humanitarian assistance” to the deprived country but will do so only “directly to the Afghan people,” rather than through the country’s new leadership.
“The two sides also discussed the United States’ provision of robust humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people. The discussions were candid and professional, with the U.S. delegation reiterating that the Taliban will be judged on its actions, not only its words,” Price added.
However, Price didn’t mention any formal agreements between the two sides that were reached during the two-day talks.
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According to the Taliban Foreign Ministry, the two sides during the two-day “dialogue” were considered “candid,” with both sides “discussed in detail” the “political issues” as well “all relevant issues.”
“Detailed discussions were held during the meeting about all relevant issues. And efforts should be exerted to restore diplomatic relations to a better state,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on Twitter, adding that both sides agreed that similar meetings “will continue to be held in the future if required.”
Taliban representatives said talks with the U.S “went well” and that the Islamic group reiterated their commitment to keeping terrorists out of the country. However, the Taliban ruled out any “cooperation” with the U.S on containing the extremist ISIS-K, a terrorist group reemerging increasingly rapidly in Afghanistan.
The terrorist group is considered to pose one of the greatest threats to the United States for its potential to stage attacks on American targets.
ISIS has taken responsibility for several recent attacks, including the latest on Friday in claiming responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed 46 minority Shiite Muslims and wounded more than 100 others during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kunduz. The terrorist group has carried out relentless assaults on the Afghan’s Shiites since emerging in eastern Afghanistan in 2014
“We are able to tackle Daesh independently,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AP when asked whether the Taliban would work with the U.S. to contain the Islamic State affiliate.
Al-Jazeera English cited Ameer Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban-appointed foreign minister for Afghanistan, saying that the Taliban had asked the U.S. during the talks to lift its ban on the reserves of the Afghan central bank. He noted that such assistance “should not be linked to political issues.” Pakistani officials also urged U.S. officials to release billions of dollars in international funds to stave off an economic meltdown while also pressure the U.S. to engage with the new rulers.
Since the Taliban seized power in mid-August after the collapse of the Afghan government, humanitarian aid that helped finance 75% of the war-torn country’s public spending had been frozen from the international financial institutions, such as IMF and World Bank. In a report, the United Nations last month said Afghanistan is “on the brink” of universal poverty, with as 97 percent of Afghans could be below the poverty line by mid-2022.
This is not the first time the Biden administration has used similar language in describing the Taliban. Last month, National Security Council Spokeswoman Emily Horne in a statement, said the Taliban have been “businesslike and professional” while being “cooperative” in efforts to allow Americans to depart Afghanistan.