26 Apr 2019

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad: U.S., Russia, China agree that intra-Afghan meeting in Doha should happen as soon as possible

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about results of the trilateral meeting on Afghanistan settlement that took place in Moscow on April 25, prospects of the intra-Afghan meeting in Doha, and Russia‘s role in the Afghan issue.

Question: How have the trilateral consultations on Afghanistan in Moscow today, involving the United States, Russia, and China, panned out? Has progress and mutual understanding regarding further steps in the Afghan settlement been achieved?

Answer: Our meeting went well today. We discussed what we can do together to help in three areas: 1) To get the Afghan sides, the Talibs [the Taliban movement is a terrorist organization banned in Russia], the Afghan government and other Afghans start building up on what happened in Moscow, broad based inter-Afghan dialogue that could lead to inter-Afghan negotiations, on a roadmap for a political settlement of the Afghan conflict. 2) We also had a good agreement and agreed to work together to reduce violence in Afghanistan by pressing the Talibs to agree to practical steps in reduction of violence on the way to a comprehensive ceasefire. 3) And we also talked about and agreed to work together to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a platform for international terrorists, to threaten the United States, Russia, China or any other country.
So, we had a good day. We’ve agreed on a joint statement. I think it was an important step in the right direction.

Q.: When can a continuance of the intra-Afghan dialogue involving Afghan authorities, public figures and the Taliban be expected? Will it take place in Doha or at another location? Has a mutual understanding regarding the composition of the Afghan delegation for continuing the Doha dialogue been reached with the Kabul authorities?

A.: We agreed, again the three of us, that a meeting in Doha as a follow-on to what happened here should happen as soon as possible. While the Doha meeting did not happen [the meeting was scheduled for April 19-21], we know that some progress was made in prep for it. The Talibs agreed to sit with the representatives of the Afghan government in their personal capacity. That was progress. There was also agreement for participation by the political forces besides the government in Afghanistan. Also important was an agreement that women, civil society, and minorities will also be represented. Unfortunately, the meeting itself did not happen. We are disappointed that it didn’t happen, but we think that whatever obstacles that ultimately caused the meeting not to occur should be dealt with and when our help is needed, we’re prepared to help, but that the meeting should happen as soon as possible.

Q.: Any idea when it could happen?

A.: Of course, it’s up to the Afghans. First and foremost, they have to agree with each other. Our role, whether with Qatar, of course we don‘t speak on its behalf, or whether on behalf of Russia and China, our role is not to convene and to force them to come to the table. But we will use our influence to facilitate and to encourage, because peace cannot happen without the Afghans talking to each other and without Afghans negotiating, ultimately, with each other. So dialogue is a step towards negotiations that must happen for the Afghan war to end. And all sides say that they believe in a negotiated settlement, that there is no military solution to the Afghan problems.

Q.: Do you think this meeting will take place in Doha as it was agreed before?

A.: Yes, that’s what we have also said in our statement, that it should happen in Doha.

Q.: Is the U.S. dialogue with the Taliban on a draft agreement to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and on the fight against terrorism continuing? Is it possible to say that the two provisions of the agreements dealing with counterterrorist guarantees and the withdrawal of troops of the United States and its allies from Afghanistan have more or less been agreed upon?

A.: We made progress, significant progress, on our red line, our concern, which is shared by the Russians and the Chinese, that Afghanistan should never again become a platform for international terrorists to threaten the United States or other countries.
We have made progress, but there is more work to be done. We need to be satisfied that there are adequate enforcement mechanisms in place. We‘re discussing the issue with the Taliban. We‘re also discussing the issue with the Afghan government because there are Taliban- controlled areas and the Afghan government controls the rest of the country. Our objective is, ultimately, when the negotiation starts that the two sides come to one position.

Q.: My question was linked to the last month reports that when you had a meeting with the Taliban these two preliminary agreements were achieved. Is that correct?

A.: We have reached agreements in principal, yes, that is correct. Both with regard to the issue of terrorism and the issue of withdrawal. As you know, the devil is always in the details, and the details still have to be worked out, but the agreement in principal was achieved.

Q.: What do you think about the prospect of Russia, China, and certain other countries of the region being guarantors of future agreements between the United States and the Taliban?

A.: Well, I believe that the problem of Afghanistan is very complex - it has deep roots. The war has been going on there for almost 40 years. The region and other countries have important roles. As far as guarantees are concerned, that is not an issue we have discussed in detail - the issue of guarantors. The Talib have at times raised the issue of the final agreement being witnessed by others, but we have not discussed the issue of guarantees and guarantors at this point.

Q.: What’s the American position? Does it treat the idea of Russia‘s possible role as a guarantor of the agreement negatively? Do you object to this idea?

A.: This is not an issue we have considered and it is not an issue we have discussed with the Talibs. They have raised the issue of witnesses. When you say ‘guarantors,‘ guarantors have meaning. What does that mean when you say a certain country is a guarantor of a certain agreement? We have not discussed that. The Russians have not discussed that with us. We have not discussed it with the Russians. We have not discussed it with the Talibs. This is an idea that we have not considered seriously yet.

Q.: How do you assess the level of interaction with Russia on the Afghan settlement as a whole?

A.: Well, we regard the Russians based on our meeting as positive. Russia is interested in stability in Afghanistan. Russia is interested, based on what we understand from them, from the Russian officials, in the issue of terrorism, that Afghanistan should not be a platform for terrorists. Those are common concerns.
We would like, obviously, enhanced cooperation with Russia with regard to the terrorism issue, and we welcome Russian support for the Afghan peace process. We hope that on the issues we have discussed today – the issue of reduction of violence, robust guarantees and enforcement mechanisms for counterterrorism, for post-settlement Afghanistan, and for intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation on a roadmap -- that Russia use its influence to help move these issues forward.
We look forward to working with Russia and China and others that might join this grouping to play an important role in the process.