Afghanistan's Karzai in Qatar, Taliban talks in focus
DOHA (Reuters) - President Hamid Karzai held talks with Qatari leaders on Sunday, official media reported, on a visit the Kabul government has said would seek to explore the possibility of talks with Taliban insurgents on ending Afghanistan's war.
Karzai's trip to the Gulf Arab state, a U.S. ally which has mediated in conflicts in Arab or Muslim countries, follows years of stalled discussions among the United States, Pakistan and the Taliban about a possible Afghan settlement.
Afghanistan's embassy in Doha confirmed Karzai's arrival on Saturday for a two-day visit to the Qatari capital, but declined to give any details on the purpose of the visit.
Qatar's state news agency QNA said Karzai held talks with the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, attended by the Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.
QNA gave no details of the discussions, and later reported without elaborating that Karzai had left the country.
Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Janan Mosazai, announcing the visit last week, said Karzai would "discuss the peace process and the opening of a (Taliban) office for the purposes of conducting negotiations with Afghanistan."
The Kabul government has been pushing hard to get the Taliban to the negotiating table before foreign troops withdraw.
Afghan officials have not held direct talks with the militants, who were toppled in 2001 and have proven resilient after more than a decade of war with Western forces.
Earlier this month, Karzai said the Taliban and the United States had been holding talks in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar on a "daily basis", but the militant group and Washington denied they had resumed efforts on dialogue that stalled a year ago.
The Taliban suspended those talks, saying Washington was giving mixed signals on the nascent Afghan reconciliation process.
However, the United States has said it would support setting up a Taliban office in Qatar where peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan could take place.
On a visit to Kabul last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry repeated a U.S. call for the Taliban to enter into talks and a wider political process.
He issued a veiled threat if they did not, saying U.S. President Barack Obama had yet to say how many U.S. troops will remain in the country after 2014.
Karzai has stressed the need to bring neighboring Pakistan into such a negotiation. U.S. and Afghan officials have long said the Taliban forces have sanctuary across the border in Pakistan.
Pakistan denies any senior insurgents enjoy sanctuary within its borders.
(Reporting by Regan Doherty; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by William Maclean and Sophie Hares)
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