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US to Afghan Pres.: Talks Best Chance  04/22 06:14

   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called 
Afghanistan's president over the weekend to express Washington's disappointment 
over the indefinite postponement of Afghan talks with the Taliban and to 
condemn the insurgent's latest "spring offensive," according to a statement 

   The Afghan-to-Afghan talks were scheduled to start on Friday in Qatar, where 
the Taliban maintain an office, but were scuttled after a falling out over who 
should attend.

   The gathering would have marked the first time that Taliban and Kabul 
government officials sat together. It was considered a significant first step 
toward finding a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan, America's longest 
conflict, and the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.

   The State Department said Pompeo called President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday 
over the postponement and also condemned the recent Taliban announcement of 
starting another offensive this spring.

   The announcement itself was just a show of strength since the Taliban have 
kept up relentless near-daily attacks even during the harsh winter months, 
inflicting staggering losses on the embattled Afghan military and security 
forces. Many civilians also loss their lives in the cross-fire.

   In his phone call with Ghani, Pompeo encouraged both sides to agree on 
participants, saying the talks are Afghanistan's best chance at peace.

   Before the postponement, Washington's special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, 
who has met on several occasions with the Taliban and has pressed for 
Afghan-to-Afghan talks, had hoped the Qatar meeting would bring the sides 
closer to a "roadmap" for a future Afghanistan.

   Kabul, which had been sidelined for months from U.S-Taliban talks because 
the insurgents refuse to talk directly with government officials, had offered a 
massive delegation of 250 participants, including prominent Afghan figures, 
government and opposition representatives, as well as others to travel to Qatar.

   But the hosts in Doha came back with what they said was a revised acceptable 
list that drastically reduced the number of women and eliminated all government 
ministers from the list.

   Each side blamed the other for scuttling the talks as violence continued. On 
the ground, Afghan government forces face not only a resurgent Taliban --- who 
now hold sway over nearly half the country --- but also militants from the 
Islamic State group.

   IS on Saturday targeted the Telecommunications Ministry in Kabul, with a 
suicide bomber striking outside the ministry and clearing the way for gunmen to 
enter the heavily-guarded compound. At least seven people were killed.

   According to a prominent figure on the Kabul list for talks in Qatar, who 
spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to the media, 
several senior participants on the list had received a call from the 
president's office warning them they should not express personal opinions at 
the talks with the Taliban, only speak on behalf of the state.

   The Taliban for their part have said they would consider all Afghans at the 
table only as individuals and not government representatives.

   Meanwhile, Ghani is organizing a Loya Jirga --- a council of elders that has 
a voice in Afghan policy --- for next week in Kabul. The agenda is also 
expected to include negotiating positions for talks with the Taliban.

   Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah has refused to attend the grand council, 
along with several other prominent Afghans who claim it's been hand-picked by 
the president who is seeking another term in elections in September. Abdullah 
has also announced he is running in the elections.


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