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Taliban envoys visit Iran, Russia following collapse of US talks

Afghan provincial governors and members of the High Peace Council, an organization set up to promote peace talks with the Taliban, gather Dec. 6, in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, to talk about reintegrating former Taliban into society. (Spc. Edward A. Garibay, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/U.S. Army)
September 18, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A four-member Taliban delegation has traveled to Tehran for talks with high-ranking Iranian officials — the second such trip by the militants to a foreign country just days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that peace talks with the United States had collapsed.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban political bureau in Qatar, tweeted on September 17 that the delegation led by Abdul Salam Hanafi, deputy head of political office, visited Iran and met high-ranking officials of the Iranian Foreign Ministry the previous day.

Shaeen did not disclose the identities of the delegation’s members.

The two sides discussed the peace process, the latest developments, and economic cooperation between Afghanistan and Iran, Shaeen said.

Iran’s state media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi as saying that a “Taliban political delegation” had visited the country to discuss “the latest developments in Afghanistan” with Iranian officials. He did not give further details.

On September 13, Shaeen said a Taliban delegation had met with Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov in Moscow.

RFE/RL has independently confirmed that a Taliban delegation was in Moscow on September 13.

Shaheen was quoted by the Russian news agency TASS as saying that the Taliban’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy had focused on “the recent developments regarding the peace process in Afghanistan.”

The Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported that the Taliban delegation in Moscow was headed by Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, the head of the Taliban’s negotiation team in Qatar.

It said the delegation also included Shaheen and Qari Din Muhammad Hanif.

Stanikzai told the Kremlin-funded RT network in an interview aired on September 13 that the Taliban wanted to continue talks with Washington, but if no agreement is reached the militants are ready to fight “for 100 years.”

AIP reported that the Taliban delegation was considering a possible trip to China after it concludes its visit in Moscow, but it said a final decision on going to China had not been reached by the Taliban delegates.

Moscow has hosted two previous rounds of talks in 2019 between Taliban negotiators and prominent Afghan figures.

Trump declared on September 9 that peace talks with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad were “dead.”

Earlier, Trump canceled a secret meeting with Taliban negotiators that had been scheduled at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

In Washington, Khalilzad has been called to testify at a U.S. congressional hearing on September 19 about the collapse of the talks with U.S. officials.