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Secretary of State Antony Blinken at Doha airport in September. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Qatar has agreed to become the "protecting power" for U.S. interests in Afghanistan, taking on a formal role as the diplomatic intermediary between Washington and the new Taliban government, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Friday.

Why it matters: The U.S. has shown no indication it will recognize the Taliban government, but diplomatic engagement will be necessary in order to stave off the mass humanitarian crisis bearing down on Afghanistan as winter approaches.

Driving the news: An agreement signed Friday will establish a special section in the Qatar Embassy in Kabul to provide certain consular services to U.S. citizens and monitor the security conditions of American diplomatic assets in Afghanistan.

  • A second agreement formalizes the U.S. partnership with Qatar to continue facilitating the travel of Afghans with special immigrant visas granted by the State Department and to have Qatar serve as a transit point for departing Afghans.
  • Blinken also announced Friday that all U.S. citizens who have requested assistance from the U.S. government to leave Afghanistan — and who have the necessary travel documents — have now been offered an opportunity to do so.

The big picture: Qatar has played a crucial role in U.S. negotiations with the Taliban over the past several years, and it helped facilitate the evacuation of thousands of Americans, Afghans and allies when Kabul fell to the insurgents in August.

  • The tiny Gulf emirate will take on an intermediary role similar to Switzerland's for U.S. interests in Iran.
  • The Taliban's political office, with whom the Trump administration negotiated the peace deal that ultimately led to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, is based in Doha.

Go deeper

Nov 23, 2021 - World

Afghanistan-scarred Biden admin taking no chances in Ethiopia

Ethiopia's House of Peoples' Representatives approves state of emergency, in Addis Ababa on Nov. 4. Photo: Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is sounding the alarm over the deteriorating security situation in Ethiopia, where the government in Addis Ababa has called on civilians to arm themselves against rebels marching on the capital.

Why it matters: The collapse of Ethiopia — a major African country with a population of 115 million — could cause a massive humanitarian crisis and destabilize the entire region.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."