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Afghan leaders, Taliban attend peace talks in Moscow

Afghan leaders, Taliban attend peace talks in Moscow

However, this time, the Afghan government has sent four members of its High Peace Council to attend the meet.

The Taliban's attendance will bolster the group's worldwide status, while the meeting gives Moscow the chance to influence peace efforts until now dominated by Washington. The U.S. backs a call by Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani for the government to hold talks with the Taliban without pre-conditions.

Reportedly, Friday's meet will see the participation of a five-member Taliban delegation led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, the head of the Taliban's political council in Qatar. The U.S. military has accused Iran, Russia, and Pakistan of backing the Taliban.

Stanikzai further added that they have met the US officials for three times so far and emphasized for direct talks with the United States, insisting that negotiations with the Afghan government would be useless.

Moscow has said that the aim of the upcoming meeting is to help narrow the gaps in the approaches taken by the Afghan government and the Taliban to holding a direct intra-Afghan dialogue.

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One official said: "The US basically does not consider China a key party in the Afghanistan issue".

According to Sputnik news agency, Russian Federation has sent invitations for what is called the Moscow Format talks to Afghanistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the USA and the Afghan Taliban.

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"This time, only a group has been invited, therefore we are not going to participate in it, but our agreement with the Russians is that this meeting should lead to direct talks between us (Afghan government) and the Taliban, if it does not happen like this, then this will reflect the intention of the Taliban and this means they (Taliban) are not prepared for peace", said MoFA spokesman Sibghat Ahmadi.

It was reportedly the second time a USA diplomat has met with the Taliban after the Trump administration told its foreign representatives to seek direct engagement with the militant group.

Emerging following two hours of talks, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Sohail Shaheen reiterated the group's position that no direct negotiations are possible until USA troops leave Afghanistan. "He was released to provide impetus to the peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan", said Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal.

Citing anonymous Russian diplomats, AA notes, "The President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Mr. [Ashraf] Ghani, made a decision to send a delegation of the country's High Peace Council to the meeting".

Meanwhile, Taliban representatives in Qatar held a preliminary meeting with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad last month to discuss the group's conditions to end the 17-year war.

According to the Russian foreign ministry, the main issue on the agenda is the coordination of regional efforts to assist the process of national reconciliation, in the interest of restoring peace in Afghanistan. "But we didn't say that there will be any talks with the Taliban", he said.

The Afghan foreign ministry has emphasised that the council does not represent the Afghan government at the meeting, however.