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Kerry saying Taliban talks need to 'get back on track' likely to renew worldwide concern

 

Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that proposed U.S.-Taliban peace talks “need to get back on track” -- a restart that would likely spark the same unease from Capitol Hill to the Middle East that was created when negotiations were first made public earlier this week.

Negotiations faulted before even starting on Wednesday when Taliban officials opened an office in the Qatar capital city of Doha ahead of the talks, which so infuriated Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he suspended his involvement.

Karzai was particularly upset with the office title “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” which was the country’s title during the Taliban regime and has since been changed to “Political Office of the Afghan Taliban.”

The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist political group that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The group has received military support from the Al Qaeda terrorist network and has diplomatic recognition from just a few countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

“Now we need to get back on track,” Kerry said Saturday in Doha. “I don’t know whether that’s possible or not.”

Kerry is there as part of a 13-day mission to the Middle East and Asia.

On Tuesday, Georgian Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, expressed his concern about U.S.-Afghanistan-Taliban talks.  

“Despite the remarkable progress made by the U.S. military over the last 12 years, the Taliban have regained their strength and remain unwilling to make any real commitment to cease hostilities,” he said. “I am concerned any attempt to restart negotiations will once again become one-sided and will do nothing to further our interests in preventing terrorism against the United States and our allies. Until the Taliban confirm, not just in words but in action, that they have renounced all terrorist activity and support, we should not reward them by participating in any reconciliation efforts.”

Kerry also said Saturday that if the Taliban doesn’t decide promptly to move forward with talks, “then we may have to consider whether or not the office has to be closed.”

The Obama administration is requiring the Taliban to cut ties with Al Qaeda, end violence and accept the Afghan constitution, particularly its protection of  women.

As part of the negotiations, the Taliban has offered to return Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American prisoner of war in the 12-year-long Afghan conflict, in exchange for five high-level operatives being held at Guantanamo Bay.

The five include two who were senior commanders allegedly implicated in murdering thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan and a former deputy director of Taliban intelligence, according to The New York Times.