Russia willing to open dialogue with Taliban

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MOSCOW – Russia said on Monday it was open to dialogue with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Interfax reported, echoing the US position aimed at ensuring regional stability as Washington prepares to pull out its troops. Russia fears the withdrawal of 100,000 US troops, scheduled to begin in July, will leave a power vacuum in Afghanistan, allowing militants to filter into the oil and gas-producing countries of former Soviet Central Asia.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in February that the United States was mounting a “diplomatic surge” to end the war, saying the Taliban’s only option was to split from Al Qaeda, accept the Afghan constitution and join dialogue. “We have no direct contacts with the Taliban. But Russia supports national reconciliation in Afghanistan, which is of crucial importance,” Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s envoy to Afghanistan, told Interfax news agency.
“If there are people among the Taliban, who can make this step – we are sure there are such people – we will be open for dialogue with them.” Some political analysts say the Taliban may be willing to drop Al Qaeda but Taliban leaders have said no peace talks can happen as long as foreign troops are in Afghanistan. Any prospect of talks is difficult to gauge while there is uncertain progress in the unpopular US-led war.
Kabulov outlined Russia’s preconditions for dialogue with the Taliban, which were the same three as the United States. Russia is still haunted by its decade-long war in Afghanistan, which killed 15,000 Soviet troops, and ended in 1989. Moscow is also waging a battle with Islamist rebels in its mainly Muslim North Caucasus region, where many want to carve out a separate Islamic state.