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Afghan Taliban opens Qatar office as US announces talks

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Taliban opened a political office in Doha on Tuesday, as Washington said it hoped to begin talks with its Afghan foe in the Qatari capital "in a couple of days."

The group, which has waged a deadly insurgency against US-led troops ever since its government in Kabul was overthrown after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, pledged it would never allow Afghan territory to be used to threaten a foreign country.

Taliban representatives and Qatari officials opened the "political bureau of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in Doha, an AFP photographer reported.

The office is intended to open dialogue with the international community and Afghan groups for a "peaceful solution" in Afghanistan, office spokesman Mohammed Naim told reporters in Doha.

The United States welcomed the Taliban's decision to open the office.

"I think the United States will have its first meeting with the Taliban for several years in a couple of days in Doha," a senior US official told reporters.

Confirming that Washington will also use the office to communicate with the guerrillas, who are still battling US-led NATO and Afghan troops, the official said it was the "beginning of a very difficult road."

An Afghan official in Kabul told AFP that opening the office came due to "US pressures."

On the sidelines of the ceremony, Naim said that "we will begin dialogue with the Americans soon" while talks with the Afghan government could take place "depending on the circumstances."

He said the question of Taliban's political detainees at the US military jail in Guantanamo Bay will be "a main issue" during those talks.

The Taliban, whose Kabul government was targeted in 2001 because it sheltered now slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, said it would not allow Afghan soil to be used as a launchpad to pose a similar threat again.

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan doesn't want any threats from Afghanistan soil to other countries, and neither permits anyone to threaten other countries using Afghanistan soil," the group said.

"We support a political and peaceful solution that ends Afghanistan's occupation, and guarantees the Islamic system and nationwide security."

The militants said the office would help to build relations with the world, meet other Afghans and to contact the United Nations, other agencies and the media.

Qatar's assistant minister for foreign affairs, Ali bin Fahd al-Hajri told reporters that "we are confident the office's activity will help push forward peace... away from any military activity or violence inside or outside Afghanistan."

The office is located in a two-storey villa near the diplomatic district in Doha.

The group's white flag with black writing stating that "There is no God but Allah" stood behind the dozen Taliban representatives at the opening ceremony but was not raised over the building.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130618/afghan-taliban-opens-qatar-office-us-announces-talks-0