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Afghanistan, US reaffirm support for Taliban peace deal

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Kabul and Washington reaffirmed Wednesday that they seek peace with the Taliban despite attacks on a CIA base and the Afghan presidency, repairing a row over the Islamists' office in Qatar.

US President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai held a 90-minute conference call to try to revive early efforts to start peace talks as NATO troops prepare to withdraw in 2014 after more than 12 years of fighting against the Taliban.

The level of violence still raging in Afghanistan was highlighted when the Taliban launched an assault Tuesday in the heart of Kabul in which three security guards and all five assailants were killed.

Gunmen and bombers using fake NATO identification attacked an entrance to the Afghan presidential palace and a nearby building known to house a CIA base in one of the most brazen assaults in Kabul since Karzai narrowly escaped assassination in April 2008.

Tentative steps towards talks were wrecked last week when a new Taliban office in Qatar provoked anger from Afghanistan and the US because it styled itself as the embassy of a government-in-exile.

Karzai refused to send representatives to Qatar and pulled out of separate talks on a security agreement with the US that would allow Washington to keep some troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

Washington launched an intense diplomatic effort to pacify Karzai, with telephone calls and dispatching US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, for face to face talks.

"Both presidents talked about the security agreement between Afghanistan and the US, the peace process and Taliban Qatar office," Karzai's office said in a statement after the call with Obama late Tuesday.

The US president appeared to have persuaded Karzai to renew peace efforts after the Afghan leader's furious response to the Taliban's Qatar office opening under the formal name of the movement's hardline 1996-2001 regime.

The two leaders agreed that "an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region," the White House said.

"They reiterated their support for an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the (Afghan government's) High Peace Council and authorised representatives of the Taliban."

Dobbins said Monday that Washington had also been "outraged" at how the Taliban opened the office, which had been intended to help foster a peace deal to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

The Taliban hoisted the rebel group's white flag and referred to themselves as the "Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan".

The Afghan government insists the Taliban's office in the Gulf state must only be used for direct talks with Karzai's appointed negotiators.

Karzai has previously opposed directly contacts between the Taliban and the US, which focused on securing a prisoner exchange until the rebels' suspended the talks last year.

The contentious sign, flag and flagpole unveiled at the opening of the office last Tuesday have now been moved.

Dobbins on Tuesday flew onto Islamabad for talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on efforts to launch negotiations with the Taliban, which have long maintained rear bases in Pakistan.

Sharif assured Dobbins of "Pakistan's full commitment to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process," his office said.

A senior Pakistani official told AFP Karzai that "thought he would be left out" of peace talks but said Islamabad "strongly believed there will be nothing of the sort".

"The Doha process is an effort to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table... there will be hiccups and difficulties at the beginning but we will have to show patience," the official said.

Although Islamabad is at war with a Pakistani offshoot of the Taliban, it is accused of sheltering Afghan Taliban and was one of only three countries to recognise their 1996-2001 regime in Kabul.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has also released a video message, pledging to follow any decision taken by Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar with regard to talks with the Americans.

About 100,000 foreign combat troops, 68,000 of them American, are due to exit Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130626/afghanistan-us-reaffirm-support-taliban-peace-deal-0