- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday suspended talks on a bilateral security deal with the United States to protest the Obama administration’s handling of peace negotiations with the Taliban militants who sheltered Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai’s decision could derail the nascent peace process even before it has begun.

“In view of the contradiction between acts and the statements made by the United States of America in regard to the peace process, the Afghan government suspended the negotiations, currently underway in Kabul between Afghan and U.S. delegations on the bilateral security agreement,” Mr. Karzai’s office said in a statement.

The peace process was dealt another blow by a Taliban attack on Bagram Air Field, outside Kabul, that killed four U.S. troops on Tuesday.

Senior U.S. administration officials who briefed reporters on Tuesday said that talks between the U.S. and Taliban representatives would begin within days and that the Taliban delegation soon also would meet the High Peace Council, set up by Mr. Karzai to handle the peace process.

The Taliban on Tuesday opened a political office in the Qatari capital, Doha, to facilitate the peace talks.

U.S. officials said that they want the talks with the Taliban to be Afghan-led and that they would try to facilitate talks between the militants and the Karzai administration. They cautioned, however, that there is a high level of mistrust between both sides that would make it a slow process.

A Taliban spokesman, Mohammed Naim, said in Doha on Tuesday that the militants support the Afghan peace process and do not wish to harm other countries.

U.S. officials said the statement fulfilled conditions for the Taliban to open a political office for negotiations with the Afghan government.

However, the Taliban made no mention of ending violence in Afghanistan.

U.S. and Afghan officials had set three conditions for the talks: that the Taliban cut ties to al Qaeda, lay down their arms and recognize the Afghan Constitution.

The Taliban, which has refused to talk to Mr. Karzai, didn’t refer to the Karzai administration by name but said it was willing to talk to “other Afghans.”

Mr. Karzai said on Tuesday that once the talks have begun, they should be moved to Afghanistan.

“We would agree with the statement with the qualification ‘as soon as possible,’” a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday. “It’s not going to be possible in the near future.”

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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