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U.S. Calls On Afghan Taliban To Take Ghani Peace Offer 'Seriously'

Alice Wells, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs

The United States is calling on the Taliban to give "serious" consideration to an offer for peace talks extended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last week.

Alice Wells, a U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of South and Central Asian affairs, told reporters in Washington on March 5 that Ghani is not demanding "surrender" by the Taliban, as a Taliban spokesman has said.

"I heard him offering a dignified process," she said. "This is not a surrender that's being offered to the Taliban, but a dignified process for reaching a political framework."

Ghani at an international conference in Kabul last week offered to allow the Taliban to establish itself as a political party and said he would work to remove sanctions on the militant group, among other incentives, if it joined the government in peace negotiations.

But the Taliban since Ghani's offer on February 28 has continued to reject direct peace talks with the government and has insisted it will only negotiate with the United States, which it calls a "foreign occupying force." The Taliban also insists that NATO forces must withdraw before negotiations can begin.

The United States has refused to withdraw troops as demanded by the Taliban and has insisted that any negotiations must be between the Taliban and Kabul.

Wells said Ghani's offer showed the Afghan government has "listened carefully" to the Taliban and is being responsive to a number of the militants' requests.

Ghani's offer was "quite forward-leaning, and frankly I think probably caught the Taliban by surprise," Wells said. "This was quite a courageous offer."

"We certainly encourage the Taliban to take this offer seriously. It does put the onus on the Taliban to respond," she said.

Wells said the United States supports an Afghan peace conference scheduled for late March in Tashkent, which she said came out of a meeting between Ghani and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev in December.

She said the United States will participate in the Tashkent conference.

"We think that Central Asia and Uzbekistan in particular with the presidency of Mirziyoev have an important role to play in stitching Afghanistan back into the region," Wells told reporters.

"The energy ties, the trade ties, the people-to-people ties are extremely important to Afghanistan's stabilization. So yes, we do support this initiative," she said.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and TASS