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Afghan leader in Qatar to discuss peace talks

DOHA, Qatar – Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with the emir of Qatar in Doha Sunday to discuss the possible opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state.

The move could foster peace negotiations with the Islamic fundamentalist movement in a bid to stem violence as foreign combat forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The Qatar News Agency said Karzai met with the emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and other senior government officials on Sunday. He also held talks with Qatar’s ambassador to Pakistan during a tour of an Islamic art museum in Doha.

The report didn’t give details, but Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai has said the talks would include the peace process and the opening of a Taliban office.

Karzai’s office said he also met with Qatari businessmen and Afghan businessmen living in Qatar on Saturday, the start of the two-day trip, to encourage investment in his struggling country.

He said there are many opportunities in the mining industry as well as energy, power, tourism, hotels and banks.

Afghanistan has already agreed the Taliban can open an office in the Gulf state if the group breaks all ties with al-Qaida and renounces terrorism. Talks will be led by the High Peace Council, a group of influential Afghans that also includes former Taliban.

“The position of the Afghan government for the Taliban to open an office in Qatar is very clear. They should stop their relations with al-Qaida and terrorists and show their readiness for direct negotiations with the Afghan government,” Mosazai said.

Despite Karzai’s desire to hold talks with the Taliban, and Qatar’s agreement for them to open an office in Doha, the insurgents have not yet accepted the offer.

The Taliban have long refused to speak directly with Karzai or his government, which they view as a puppet of foreign powers. They have said they will negotiate only with the United States, which has in the past held secret talks with them in Qatar. But at Karzai’s insistence, the U.S. has since sought to have the insurgents speak directly with the Afghan government.

Taliban representatives have had back-channel discussions and private meetings with representatives from various countries. A senior U.S. official told the Associated Press recently that the Taliban are talking to representatives of more than 30 countries, and indirectly with the United States.

The U.S. has said Afghan-led reconciliation is important for the stability of Afghanistan and the region.

“We continue to support the opening of an office in Doha, Qatar, to facilitate negotiations between the High Peace Council and the authorized representatives of the Taliban,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told the U.N. Security Council earlier this month.

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Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.

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