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Russia Plans Afghan Conference To Advance Peace Talks

Russia's presidential envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said the meeting “aims to give an impulse, an impetus, so that substantive talks, but not just contacts, would begin in Doha.”

Russia plans to hold a conference in Moscow on March 18 to discuss Afghanistan as peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban stall, although it was unclear if the United States would attend.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a March 9 statement that the United States, China, and Pakistan are invited to Moscow for talks meant to advance intra-Afghan negotiations. An Afghan government delegation, Taliban representatives, and Qatar, which has hosted Afghan peace talks, are invited as well.

The plan is to find a way to “reduce the level of violence and end the armed conflict in Afghanistan, establish this country as an independent, peaceful and self-sufficient state, free from terrorism and drug-related crimes,” Zakharova said.

Earlier, Russia's special presidential representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, told Interfax that the meeting “aims to give an impulse, an impetus, so that substantive talks, but not just contacts, would begin in Doha.”

The Russian diplomatic effort comes as the administration of President Joe Biden seeks to secure a cease-fire and revitalize talks begun in September between the Kabul government and Taliban militants ahead of a potential withdrawal of U.S. troops by May 1.

It also comes amid a flurry of unconfirmed reports that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani suggesting that the May 1 deadline for the U.S. troop pullout is still on the table, as outlined in the U.S. agreement with the Taliban. A surge in fighting in past months has sparked concerns that an exit may spark greater bloodshed and chaos.

The Blinken letter also suggests a summit in Turkey bringing together Afghan government and Taliban representatives to accelerate peace talks.

Blinken is also pushing for a UN summit of foreign ministers and envoys from the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and India “to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.”

Reuters and AP reported a U.S.-drafted peace plan presented last week to the Afghan government and Taliban called for the current government in Kabul to be replaced with an interim administration until a new constitution is created and elections held.

Ghani has refused to step aside for a transitional government.

The State Department did not confirm the contents of any proposals. Spokesman Ned Price said it is too early to say how Afghan peace talks were going but that Washington believes progress is possible.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, Interfax, Reuters and TASS