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Afghan officials say U.S. broke promise on Taliban office

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Hamid Shalizi and Dylan Welch

KABUL (Reuters) - - Senior Afghan officials accused the United States on Wednesday of breaking written assurances to Kabul that a new Taliban office in Qatar would not be used as a de facto diplomatic mission.

The accusation, by two senior Afghan officials speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, came hours after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced the suspension of negotiations with the United States on a troop pact, and said his government would not join U.S. peace talks with the Taliban, announced on Tuesday, until such talks were led by Afghans.

The United States and the Taliban have said officials from both sides will meet in Doha, the capital of Qatar, on Thursday, raising hopes for a negotiated peace in Afghanistan after 12 years of bloody and costly war between American-led forces and the insurgents.

Both Afghan officials repeatedly said the manner in which the Taliban office was opened was "a violation of written principles and assurances provided by the U.S.".

Specifically, they objected to the ceremonial opening of the office - which included a prominent Taliban flag and a banner with the insurgent group's state name, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan - giving the impression that the Taliban had achieved some level of international political recognition.

"The peace process is a critical priority for us, and we will not allow anyone to abuse this process as a roundabout way of achieving goals they failed to achieve on the battlefield," one of the senior government officials said.

Karzai had a phone conversation on Wednesday morning, Kabul time, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in which Karzai "expressed his displeasure" regarding the ceremony, the official said.

The pair, who have enjoyed a relatively warm relationship, were due to have another call on Wednesday evening.

One of the officials also read from a notebook, quoting what he said were the "written principles and assurances" provided by the United States. He said the manner of the opening of the office was a clear violation of those assurances.

"'The Taliban office will be called the Taliban office for the purpose of negotiations between the Afghan government's High Peace Council and the authorized representatives of the Taliban'," he read.

"'(The Taliban office will) not be referred to as an embassy, as an emirate, a government or a sovereign (state). And (it is not to) be used for any terrorist or violent activities or for funding'."

Reuters was unable to independently verify the assurances that the official said Washington had given. The official declined to state exactly how they had been provided or by whom, except to say they had come in a written form from the U.S. government.

The official did say, however, that they had been given since James Dobbins, the new U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, visited Afghanistan on April 28.

U.S. officials said that in the talks in Doha, the United States would stick to its insistence that the Taliban break ties with al Qaeda, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution, including protection for women and minorities.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130619/afghan-officials-say-us-broke-promise-taliban-office