En­voy in­ten­si­fies peace ef­forts

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Matthew Lee

WASH­ING TON» The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s spe­cial en­voy for Afghanistan is re­turn­ing to the coun­try af­ter stops in Europe and the Mid­dle East for an ex­tended diplo­matic tour aimed at push­ing a U.S. peace ini­tia­tive.

The State Depart­ment said in a state­ment Sun­day that Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Afghan Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Zal­may Khalilzad would spend the rest of Fe­bru­ary trav­el­ing to Bel­gium, Ger­many, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pak­istan.

It said the trip is in­tended “to fa­cil­i­tate a peace process that pro­tects U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests and brings all Afghan par­ties to­gether in an in­traAfghan di­a­logue through which they can de­ter­mine a path for their coun­try’s fu­ture.”

Khalilzad re­cently fin­ished a sim­i­lar trip dur­ing which his talks with the Tal­iban pro­duced a ten­ta­tive frame­work agree­ment, but he warned last week that the ne­go­ti­a­tions are far from fin­ished.

Khalilzad told an au­di­ence at the U.S. In­sti­tute of Peace on Fri­day that he hopes a fi­nal deal can be clinched be­fore Afghanistan’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in July. He stressed, how­ever that many is­sues re­main to be re­solved and that it must be a pack­age deal. “We are in the early stage of a pro­tracted process,” he said. “We have a long way to go.”

The for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Kabul also called for di­rect talks to be­gin as soon as pos­si­ble be­tween the Tal­iban and the Afghan gov­ern­ment, which thus far has not been in­volved in Khalilzad’s talks. So far, though, he noted that the Tal­iban have been un­will­ing to take this step, ar­gu­ing that the gov­ern­ment is il­le­git­i­mate.

The U.S. has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan.

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