• Obama, Karzai back Taliban talks in Qatar

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    WASHINGTON, D.C.: President Barack Obama and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai support the idea of holding talks with the Taliban in its Qatar office, the White House said on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), reviving hopes for a peace process.

    The announcement came despite a brazen Taliban assault on the Afghan presidential palace in the heart of Kabul on Tuesday, in which three security guards and all five assailants were killed in an hour-long gunbattle.

    In a video call, the two leaders agreed that “an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region,” the White House said.

    “They reiterated their support for an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the [Afghan government’s] High Peace Council and authorized representatives of the Taliban.”

    Obama appeared to have persuaded Karzai to renew peace efforts after the Afghan leader’s furious response to the Taliban’s portrayal of its newly opened Qatar office as the headquarters of a state-in-exile.

    US envoy James Dobbins said on Monday that Washington was also “outraged” at how the Taliban opened the office, which had been intended as a first step towards a peace deal to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

    The Taliban opened the office under the rebel group’s white flag and referred to themselves as the “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan,” the name of their hardline 1996-2001 regime.

    The flag and the name triggered a diplomatic bust-up that derailed an early stage of efforts to start peace talks as the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) combat mission winds down 12 years after the Taliban were ousted.

    The Afghan government, which has said it is still committed to the peace process, insists the Taliban’s office in the Gulf state must only be used for direct talks with Karzai’s appointed negotiators.

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