US 'committed' to talks despite Taliban halt

White House says negotiations essential for ending conflict, after Afghan group announces suspension of peace talks.

    The White House has insisted it is committed to negotiations with the Taliban after the Afghan group announced a suspension of talks with the US.

    "The terms have been as I've stated them on many occasions," Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said on Thursday.

    "We broadly support a process here that is essential to the long-term resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan," he said.

    The Taliban claimed that the US had changed the terms of an Afghan reconciliation dialogue, a move the armed group said prompted it to walk out of talks aimed at ending the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

    "It was due to their alternating and ever-changing position that the Islamic Emirate was compelled to suspend all dialogue with the Americans," a statement posted on the Taliban's website said on Thursday.

    The group complained that a US representative presented a list of conditions at the last meeting "which were not only unacceptable but also in contradiction with the earlier agreed upon points".

    The statement confirmed that Taliban representatives had held talks in Qatar with US officials over a prisoner exchange as well as the opening of a liaison office in the Gulf state.

    "We must categorically state that the real source of obstacle in talks was the shaky, erratic and vague standpoint of the Americans therefore all the responsibility for the halt also falls on their shoulders," the statement said.

    Karzai demand

    In another setback to the US, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, on Thursday demanded that foreign troops pull out of villages.

    Karzai's demand came days after a US soldier’s pre-dawn shooting spree in southern Kandahar province left 16 civilians dead.

    The soldier, an army staff sergeant, was flown out out of Afghanistan to Kuwait on Wednesday.

    "Our demand is that this process should be executed sharply and the responsibility should be handed over to Afghans," Karzai said in a statement after meeting with Leon Panetta, the US secretary of defence.

    Karzai added that both sides "should work towards completing the transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces in 2013, and not the announced date of 2014".

    'Spiralling downward'

    According to reports, the Taliban's pre-condition that five of their high-ranking officials be released from US detention in Guantanamo Bay seems to have halted any progress in peace talks.

    Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith, reporting from Kabul, said the Taliban had expected the release of the high-ranking prisoners by now and it seemed that they had given up on that happening.

    "I think from the US perspective, you have to see things going from bad to worse in their Afghan policy. All recent events point to a spiralling downward, including the Quran burning incident and then the killings of the 16 villagers, now Karzai is asking the US remove troops.

    "There is sense that the US [policy] is heading to some sort of disarray at the moment.”

    The Taliban announced the opening of a political office in Qatar in January, in what was considered a major step in reaching an agreement to end the 10-year war.

    Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, DC, said the situation had certainly raised concerns for US officials.

    "One thing the officials will be looking at is whether this is a critical blow to the overall peace process about working a reconciliation deal," she said.

    "Is this just political posturing on the part of the Taliban, or whether there are deeper problems in the initial stages of confidence building."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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