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Kerry, Karzai Talk Over Taliban Flap

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken by telephone with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a bid to defuse a dispute that threatens to scuttle peace talks with the Taliban.

Karzai on June 19 threatened to boycott U.S.-directed talks with the Taliban and said he was suspending negotiations with Washington on a pact aimed to address U.S.-Afghan relations after 2014.

Karzai’s administration was angered after the Taliban on June 18 opened an office in Qatar using the name the militants used for the country while in power from 1996 to 2001: the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Karzai’s government said the United States had not fulfilled pledges that the Taliban would not receive any official status.

Karzai said in a statement that unless peace negotiations are Afghan-led, the High Peace Council, which he set up in 2010 to seek peace with the Taliban, will not participate in any talks.

The State Department said Qatari authorities have ordered that the Taliban sign be taken down.

A U.S. official said talks with the Taliban could still be held in Qatar in the next few days, but no date has been confirmed.

The United States and the Taliban announced on June 18 that officials from both sides would meet in Doha, as early as this week, to launch a peace process to end the past 12 years of war between the Taliban and U.S.-backed forces.

The Taliban made no specific mention, then, that it was ready to meet with the U.S.-backed government of Karzai.

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In another development, a Taliban representative has told RFE/RL the militants are ready to discuss sharing power and to possibly hold talks with Karzai government representatives.

Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman for the Qatar office, said the Taliban seeks an inclusive government.

Asked if the Taliban is ready to negotiate with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's representatives, Naeem said that the Taliban is ready to "talk to all Afghans who come to the [Qatar] office."

The Taliban has previously refused to recognize Karzai’s government, denouncing him as a puppet of foreign powers.

Earlier this week, Afghan government forces officially took over security control of the country as U.S. and NATO-led combat troops pull back in preparation for withdrawal by the end of 2014.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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