- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

The United States said yesterday it is "actively considering" re-establishing a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and will do so when the country meets certain conditions, but the creation of a new government is not one of them.
Meanwhile, Turkey yesterday reopened its embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital, after five years, and Moscow's envoy said its own diplomatic mission "has started to function," although the Russian Emergencies Ministry called it a "humanitarian center."
Italy, Iran and India have also made moves to renew their diplomatic ties with the war-ravaged country.
Washington, which broke relations with Afghanistan after the Taliban militia took power in 1996, has been more cautious than other countries in reopening the U.S. Embassy in Kabul out of concern that doing so may be interpreted as recognition of the Northern Alliance.
But yesterday the State Department said establishing a diplomatic presence there is "under active consideration" and Afghan nationals are already working in the embassy building.
"We look forward to an opportunity to establish a working relationship with the interim administration whatever new government they decide to establish," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
He said that while the United States hopes the ongoing talks in Germany will help the participating Afghan groups to form a government, it won't necessarily wait for that to happen before it opens the U.S. Embassy.
"That's obviously one of the factors we have to consider, but it's not a condition," he said, adding that a timetable for the return of U.S. personnel is yet to be drafted.
Another senior State Department official said later that Washington's requirements include "some synchronization" of the political process in Afghanistan, establishment of basic political structures, improvement of the security situation and the condition of the embassy building.
The building was attacked and set on fire by a pro-Taliban mob on Sept. 26 as the United States prepared for military action against the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
The U.S. Embassy suspended normal operations and its American staff was withdrawn in 1989 because of security concerns after Soviet troops left at the end of a decade-long occupation. Local Afghan staff, however, continued to work until 1996.
No U.S. official has visited Kabul since the Northern Alliance took the city Nov. 12, although James Dobbins, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's special envoy for Afghanistan, has held brief meetings at the Bagram airport north of the capital.
Mr. Boucher said the United States "won't be the last" to re-establish diplomatic ties with Afghanistan.
Yesterday, the Turkish Embassy in Kabul reopened, although an ambassador has not yet been posted, the Foreign Ministry in Ankara said in a statement. A diplomat ranking as third secretary has been appointed to the mission, according to the statement, carried by Anatolia news agency.
Turkey, a NATO member, is a key Muslim U.S. ally in the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan.
Also yesterday, the Russian Embassy in Kabul reopened, but there was some confusion over in what capacity. A deputy minister from Russia's Emergencies Ministry called it a "humanitarian center." But an envoy sent by President Vladimir Putin disagreed.
"Despite material complications, the Russian Embassy in Afghanistan has started to function," the envoy, Alexander Oblov, told Russia's Interfax news agency.
On Thursday, Italy announced plans to reopen its embassy in Kabul and said it would send diplomats on an exploratory mission in the coming days.

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