BEIRUT

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Afghanistan government to take point on peace talks with Taliban

Clinton and Rassoul open the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Commission talks to deal with future relations.

WASHINGTON: Afghanistan will work “vigorously” to seek peace with Taliban insurgents, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul vowed Wednesday at the launch of a new body set up to steer ties with the U.S.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also vowed the United States would stand by Afghanistan as it seeks to emerge from decades of war, even after all U.S. and NATO combat troops have left the country by late 2014.

“We know that difficult days lie ahead,” she said. “But despite the challenges, the United States is committed to the people of Afghanistan, and we have made progress together that too often is overlooked.”

“The United States has made an enduring commitment to Afghanistan that was forged in sacrifice,” she said, adding the U.S. has “invested a great deal in Afghanistan” pointing to the more than 2,000 American troops who have died there.

“Now as partners we look to the future,” Clinton added at the launch of a bilateral commission set up “to guide the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, as we move to the next phase of our relationship.”

Wednesday’s talks were to discuss specific steps to implement the strategic partnership agreement, but they come amid reports that the United States is scaling back plans to try to facilitate Afghan peace talks.

Instead the fledgling talks would be left in the hands of the Afghan government, military and diplomatic officials told the New York Times, adding it seemed unlikely there would be any significant progress until after 2014.

“I don’t see it happening in the next couple years,” a senior coalition officer told the Times Tuesday.

“It’s a very resilient enemy, and I’m not going to tell you it’s not,” the officer said. “It will be a constant battle, and it will be for years.”

Rassoul vowed Wednesday that “negotiating a comprehensive bilateral security agreement between our two countries of satisfaction to both sides is of paramount importance.”

“We will continue to pursue the peace process vigorously. This is the just and deserving right of the Afghan people and the surest path to ending the cycle of violence in Afghanistan,” he said. “Afghanistan is fully committed to building on our shared sacrifice of the last decade, delivering results and taking on the challenges ahead.”

Contacts in recent years between the Taliban and the West designed to avert civil war once NATO combat troops leave Afghanistan have yet to yield a concrete agreement.

Nascent contacts between the Taliban, the Afghan government and the United States earlier this year in Qatar were suspended after a deal to exchange Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay fell apart.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 04, 2012, on page 10.

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