Envoy: Russia plays Afghanistan broker due to US 'failure'

A senior Russian diplomat said Monday that Moscow is trying to be an Afghan peace broker because it considers the U.S. has failed in Afghanistan.

Russia's presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said a Moscow conference on Afghanistan Friday that brought together representatives of the Afghan authorities and the Taliban marked an attempt to "take a modest first step toward full-fledged peace talks."

Kabulov said Monday that Russia's efforts to help an Afghan peace settlement have been driven not by a desire to undercut the U.S. efforts, but by legitimate security concerns. He emphasized that the continuing fighting in Afghanistan threatens the interests of Russia and its allies in Central Asia.

"Afghanistan is close to our underbelly so national interests of Russia and its allies are at stake," Kobulov said at a briefing. "We can't just sit back and watch impassively what's going on, and we have let the U.S. know that it doesn't appear to be successful in settlement efforts."

Kabulov charged that "the presence of the U.S. and NATO hasn't only failed to solve the problem but exacerbated it," noting that the Taliban has steadily expanded its foothold.

"The West has lost the war in Afghanistan, and it's reluctant to acknowledge that obvious fact," Kabulov said. "If they continue to rely on force, it would only lead to thousands more victims and further ravage the country."

He noted that regional powers, including Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran have a strong interest in ending the conflict and should play a more active role.

The U.S. Embassy sent a diplomat to observe Friday's conference in Moscow that was attended by several members of Afghanistan's government-appointed Peace Council and the Taliban. Envoys from China, India, Pakistan and the ex-Soviet nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan also attended the meeting.

Taliban officials and Peace Council members have met at past forums elsewhere, and while no formal talks were ever held they have had some face-to face discussions.

The Taliban has refused direct talks with the Afghan government, which it sees as a U.S. puppet, saying it will only negotiate the end of the 17-year war directly with Washington. The group reaffirmed that position in Moscow, saying it would talk directly to the U.S. to demand its pullout from the country.

Kabulov said that he may meet with the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, later this fall.