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US dithers over withdrawal from Afghanistan as Russia steps in

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said on Tuesday a May 1 deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan may have to be reconsidered because the Taliban are not meeting their commitments under a 2020 peace deal.

“I’m very concerned about the viability of the peace process in Afghanistan,” Menendez said on a call with reporters, adding that he believes the Taliban is “clearly not abiding” by all of the commitments it made.

The new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden wants to revive stalled peace talks before May 1, when the last 2,500 U.S. troops must leave Afghanistan under the Feb. 29, 2020, deal struck between the Taliban and the former Trump administration.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week proposed in a letter to Afghan leaders that a senior-level meeting take place “in the coming weeks.”

Menendez became chairman of the influential foreign relations panel after Biden’s Democrats took control of the Senate in January.

He said that if intelligence reports showed that the Taliban was falling short, the deadline would have to be rethought.

“If the Taliban are confirmed as not meeting their commitments, which I personally believe they’re not, then we may have to reconsider the May 1 deadline,” Menendez said.

In related developments Russia plans to hold a conference on Afghanistan in Moscow later this month, the TASS news agency said on Tuesday, but the U.S. State Department did not confirm American attendance.

The TASS report comes after the United States shared with Afghan officials, Taliban leaders and others a draft peace plan calling for replacing the government with a power-sharing interim administration pending elections under a new constitution.

The U.S. proposal is intended to jump-start stalled talks in Doha between the Taliban and a team that includes Afghan officials on a political settlement to decades of conflict.

Moscow also has advocated a transitional power-sharing government as part of a peace deal. Russia’s special representative on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, told the Sputnik news agency last month that Moscow was ready to host intra-Afghan peace talks to break the stalemate in Doha.

TASS said the Russian Foreign Ministry planned to hold the conference on Afghanistan on March 18, but gave no further details.

A State Department spokesperson noted that, “The United States has met in the past with Russia in support of the Afghanistan peace process. Recently we have discussed scheduling a meeting, but the United States has nothing to confirm at this time.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote last week in a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that the United States would ask Turkey to host “a senior-level meeting of both sides in coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement.”

The United States is facing a May 1 deadline for withdrawing the last 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan under a deal signed with the Taliban by the former Trump administration.

Source: Reuters

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