U.S. says envoy Khalilzad to attend Afghan peace conference in Moscow

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad plans to attend a Thursday conference in Moscow on accelerating the Afghanistan peace process, the State Department said on Monday.

U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad attends a meeting with Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah (not pictured) in Kabul, Afghanistan March 15, 2021. High Council for National Reconciliation Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

The decision by President Joe Biden’s administration to send Khalilzad to Moscow signals that the United States and Russia, which both favor the creation of an interim government, may cooperate on ending the strife in Afghanistan despite their deep disagreements on other issues.

The Moscow conference will “compliment all other international efforts to support the Afghanistan peace process and also reflects the international community’s concerns about progress to date,” deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told a news briefing.

The Taliban and the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani have agreed to attend the conference. China and Pakistan also were invited.

The meeting is one of a series of international gatherings called to try to break an impasse in talks in Doha between the Taliban and a delegation that includes government officials on a political settlement to decades of war.

The United States faces a May 1 deadline to withdraw its remaining troops from Afghanistan under a February 2020 deal with the Taliban reached under former President Donald Trump. U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001.

The United States this month floated a proposed peace accord that would replace the Ghani administration with an interim government to which the Taliban and the government would name members, and establish a nationwide ceasefire.

Under the plan, presidential and parliamentary elections would be held after the adoption of a new constitution.

Khalilzad shared the proposal with the sides and has been soliciting their views as he shuttles around the region.

Russia also has advocated the establishment of an interim government as part of a peace deal. Ghani has rejected the idea, saying elections should decide a change in government. The Taliban oppose a ceasefire and the holding of elections.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Simon Lewis; Editing by Chris Reese and Will Dunham