(WASHINGTON) — Late last week, following the Taliban flag and sign kerfuffle, U.S. officials were saying that Afghan peace talks could still happen in a matter of days. On Monday, however, the State Department stepped back from that expectation, as spokesman Patrick Ventrell cast some doubt as to whether talks would get underway even though the Qataris had helped to resolve the flag and sign issue.
“We need to see if we can get it back on track. We don’t know whether that’s possible or not,” Ventrell said at Monday’s State Department briefing. “It might not.”
Just one day after the Taliban opened a new office in Qatar, supposedly to help kickstart the peace process, Afghan President Hamid Karzai abruptly called off all negotiations with the United States — and with the Taliban — on any long-term peace deals. An online video showed the Taliban raising their national flag at their office and posting a sign that read “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” something many of Karzai’s supporters considered an insult, saying they should have been raising the Afghan national flag instead.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry immediately phoned Karzai and assured him the flag was coming down and that the sign would be replaced with “Bureau of Peace Talks.”
On Monday Ventrell said he was echoing what Kerry had said, following the Taliban flag situation.
“We don’t know one way or another. There were some hopeful signs” in the wake of the flag and sign situation, and “we want to see if we can get it back on track, but we’ll be clear-eyed and continue to see what can happen,” he said.
U.S. representative to the talks James Dobbins was in Kabul on Monday meeting with Afghan government officials. Ventrell said Dobbins did not meet with Taliban representatives.
Ventrell said he did not have any particular terms or conditions to point to that could become potential stumbling blocks.
“We’ve said that if a meeting’s possible, there’ll be one. But I just don’t have one to announce yet.”
He reiterated that the U.S. goal has always been to have Afghan-to-Afghan talks first, but that the U.S. is ready to meet with the Taliban because it has issues to raise with them, though nothing has been scheduled.
“We’re willing to be there if they want us to be there, but we have to see what happens. The goal is to get the two sides talking together,” Ventrell said, adding that it’s up to the Afghan High Peace Council to determine if they want the U.S. to play a part in separate Afghan-to-Afghan talks.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have claimed responsibility for attacks Monday on the Presidential Palace, the Ariana hotel (the location of the C.I.A. headquarters in Kabul) and the Ministry of Defense.
A police source says two attackers were resisting arrest. No casualties have been reported.
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