By Rod Nordland
KABUL, Afghanistan — No peace talks with the Taliban this week: That was the short message on Sunday from the American envoy charged with starting those negotiations.
Stopping here in Kabul this weekend on his way to Qatar, where the insurgents are in the process of opening an office, the envoy, Marc Grossman, implicitly rejected reports that he planned to begin negotiations there this week. He made it clear that there was a long way to go.
Qatar still needs to talk to the Afghans about the proposed Taliban office, he said, and the United States needs to talk to Pakistan, which rebuffed Mr. Grossman’s plans to visit last week. Perhaps most telling, the Taliban still needs to clarify whether they actually intend to engage in peace talks, he said.
“The peace process is a comprehensive and large and complicated set of issues,” Mr. Grossman, the United States’ special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in a news conference here on Sunday after meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
He repeatedly reassured the Afghans that any peace talks would be “Afghans talking to Afghans.”
“Only Afghans can decide the future of Afghanistan,” he said.
What is obvious, however, is that the first steps are being taken by American officials, working through the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, and President Karzai’s aides had expressed concern that they might be sidelined.
The American envoy repeatedly emphasized that the Taliban have not explicitly said that they would participate in peace talks. While they have enthusiastically and publicly endorsed opening an office in Qatar, they have yet to clarify that it would be used for peace talks rather than, as some have feared, to enhance their international prestige while they wait out the American military withdrawal in 2014.
In addition, Mr. Grossman said, the Taliban would have to publicly renounce their links with international terrorists before talks could begin.
The Taliban also set a condition for opening an office in Qatar, saying that it would do so on the condition that the United States release Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Afghan officials have long advocated such a release as part of a peace process and on Sunday endorsed that idea. Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin went a step further, saying that Afghanistan would support the idea of transferring Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo to Qatar.
Illustrating how far apart the parties are, Mr. Grossman said the United States had not made any decision about releasing prisoners.
“This is an issue in the United States of law, something on which we would want to consult our Congress,” he said. “We have not made any decisions on this.”
Mr. Ludin also said the Afghan government had invited a Qatari delegation to Kabul, Afghanistan, to discuss the Taliban office, and Mr. Grossman seconded the idea of discussions between the Qataris and the Afghans.
Afghan officials had complained that Qatar had not only never consulted with them, but had yet to open an embassy in Afghanistan.
Mr. Ludin and Mr. Grossman said that Pakistan’s participation was crucial to any peace process. Mr. Grossman sought to play down Pakistan’s refusal to meet with him during this trip, which had been billed as an effort to prepare for peace talks by talking with regional leaders. However, he said, echoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, “There really can’t be a comprehensive peace process unless Pakistan is part of it.”
He added, “I would be happy to meet them at any time or any place.”
Source: THE NEW YORK TIMES