US President Donald Trump waits for a meeting in the White House - AFP/Brendan Smialowski US President Donald Trump waits for a meeting in the White House - AFP/Brendan Smialowski

Trump pushing Afghan president to close Taliban office in Qatar

Tue, Sep. 26, 2017
LONDON – 26 September 2017: Donald Trump is pushing the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, to close a Taliban mission in Qatar, which has been a channel for dialogue for more than six years, the Guardian newspaper quoted several sources familiar with discussions between the two countries as saying on Tuesday.

Ghani is expected to agree to the closure, but a final decision has not yet been reached. The issue was raised at a meeting between the two leaders on Thursday.

The Afghan leadership sees the 36-strong informal delegation in Doha – which the Taliban calls its ‘political office’ – as doing nothing to facilitate peace talks, merely conferring political legitimacy on a group Kabul views as no more than a tool of Pakistan.

Trump is said to be hostile to the maintenance of the Taliban office for several reasons. He portrays it as a failed initiative of his predecessor that had not led to the peace negotiations Barack Obama had hoped for. Meanwhile, the Saudi and Emirati monarchies have been pressuring for its closure since its inception, seeing it as a symbol of Doha’s diplomatic prestige and US-Qatari ties.

A request to close the office would have to be formally initiated by Kabul, but the ultimate decision would lie with the Qatari government.

According to one source close to the diplomatic exchanges, the office has become collateral damage of the continuing Saudi-Qatari standoff.

Saudi Arabia and three other countries - Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates – have been locked in a dispute with Qatar since June because of claims that Qatar supports Iran and Islamists and funds terrorism. Qatar has denied the claims.

Trump has offered to mediate in that dispute while indicating strongly he shared Riyadh’s view of the dispute. The US president is believed to have raised the issue of the Taliban office at a meeting last Tuesday with the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

In February, Ghani told the Qatari foreign minister during a security conference in Munich that the Taliban office should be closed.

It is not known whether Tamim agreed to close the office, but he is eager to cultivate support from Washington at a time when his country has been subjected to a crippling economic blockade by neighbours.
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