Mar 8, 2021 - World

Report: U.S. calls for UN-led Afghan peace talks

Antony Blinken, U.S. secretary of state, speaks at the State Department in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 4

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a letter outlining a plan to accelerate peace talks with the Taliban that the U.S. is "considering" a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghan outlet TOLOnews first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: In the letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, also obtained by Western news outlets, Blinken expresses concern that the Taliban "could make rapid territorial gain" after an American military withdrawal, even with the continuation of U.S. financial aid, as he urges Ghani to embrace his proposal.

For the record: As part of a deal struck last year with the Taliban, former President Trump pledged a full withdrawal of some 2,500 American troops remaining in Afghanistan by May 1.

  • In his letter, confirmed by American and Afghan officials to the New York Times, Blinken tells Ghani that the Biden administration is still "considering the full withdrawal of our forces" by May 1, "as we consider other options" and that he wants Ghani to "understand the urgency of my tone."

Of note: Blinken suggests to Ghani a United Nations-facilitated conference with foreign ministers and envoys from the U.S., Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran "to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan."

  • He's also calling for a 90-day reduction in violence in Afghanistan in order to prevent a "spring offensive by the Taliban."
  • After meeting with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad last week in the Afghan capital Kabul, Ghani said that his government is "ready to discuss the possibility of holding fresh elections in a bid to push forward peace talks with the Taliban," per Al Jazeera.

What to watch: Khalilzad has been asked to share with Ghani and the Taliban leaders "written proposals aimed at accelerating discussions on a negotiated settlement and ceasefire," Blinken wrote.

  • The U.S. will ask Turkey to host a senior-level meeting of "both sides in the coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement," per the letter.

What they're saying: The State Department declined to comment on the letter, but said in an emailed statement that Khalilzad's "trip represents a continuation of American diplomacy in the region."

  • "We have not made any decisions about our force posture in Afghanistan after May 1," the statement added. "All options remain on the table."
  • Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesperson for Ghani, told Bloomberg that Blinken's letter "can't guide us through the peace process because President Ghani and our constitution have clearly drafted an Afghan version of a peace plan, which would be a roadmap towards peace."
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