US President Donald Trump has thanked Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for the Gulf country’s efforts in facilitating the release of two Western hostages held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Qatar’s official news agency has reported.
The emir and Trump held a telephone call on Friday in which the US president “expressed his sincere thanks” to the emir “for its active role in facilitating the release of the two hostages who were held in Afghanistan”, the Qatar News Agency (QNA) said.
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During the phone call, they “reviewed the strategic relations” between the two countries and “ways of enhancing them”, in addition to “discussing the latest regional and international developments”, QNA said.
Qatar on Thursday welcomed the release of US national Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, the two university professors held hostage in Afghanistan by the Taliban, according to a report by the Reuters News Agency.
Doha said it had played an instrumental role in their release this week. “Qatar welcomes these releases as goodwill gestures by the Taliban and the Government of Afghanistan to advance peace and bring an end to war in Afghanistan,” Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
On Tuesday, King and Weeks – kidnapped in August 2016 outside Kabul’s American University of Afghanistan where both worked – were freed in return for the release of three Taliban commanders.
Sources told Al Jazeera that the commanders, including senior Taliban leader Anas Haqqani, landed in Qatar, which hosts the group’s political office at the request of the United States, and has hosted several rounds of peace talks.
The swap was seen as key to securing direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who have, until now, refused to engage with what they call a “puppet” regime in Kabul.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the release on Tuesday. “The developments give us hope for the success of intra-Afghan peace negotiations, which the United States stands ready to support,” he said.
The US and the Taliban spent much of this year discussing a plan for the withdrawal of US troops in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.
But Trump halted the talks in September following the death of a US soldier and 11 people in a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.