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US ready to hold direct talks with Taliban

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WASHINGTON: The United States said that it was exploring “all avenues” to advance the Afghan peace process, but “it is doing so in close consultation” with the Afghan government. The New York Times reported earlier that the Trump administration had asked its diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban, shifting away from its earlier policy of no direct contacts with the militants.
Later, Gen John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, also confirmed that Washington was ready to hold direct talks with the Taliban. “The United States is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government,” a spokesperson for the US State Department told Dawn when asked to comment on these reports.
“Any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and Afghan government.”
The NYT, however, reported that “the Trump administration has told its top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban”. The move was “a significant shift in American policy in Afghanistan, done in the hope of jump-starting negotiations to end the 17-year war”, the report added.
“Our Secretary of State, Mr [Mike] Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces,” Gen Nicholson told the Reuters news agency in Kabul.
The Taliban have long demanded direct talks with the Americans as they claim that the US-backed government in Kabul did not have the power to consider their main demand: the withdrawal of “all foreign troops from Afghanistan”.
The United States, however, insists that the Taliban must talk to the Afghan government if they want to be included in the peace process.
Washington also insists that it could only play a supportive role in the talks. The statement sent to Dawn did not deny US media reports but said that whatever avenues Washington was exploring for furthering the Afghan peace process, it was done so in consultation with the government in Kabul.
The US media noted that the decision to reach out to the Taliban followed the Eid ceasefire in Afgha­nistan, which allowed Taliban fighters to mingle with Afghan security forces on the streets of Kabul and other cities. The “unprecedented scenes” encouraged officials in both Kabul and Washington to seek direct talks with the Taliban, the reports added.
A recent report by an official US agency, Office of the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, points to another factor that might have persuaded Washington to seek direct talks. The report states that while the Afghan government controls or influences 229 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, the Taliban control 59. The remaining 119 districts are contested between the two.


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International

Threats to US would mean Iran’s end, warns Trump

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Washington: US President Donald Trump has asked Iran “never to threaten” the US and warned Tehran that if it wants a fight, it would be “the official end” of the Islamic nation.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted.

His tweets appeared to be a considerable shift in tone from the President’s brief remarks at the White House on May 16, when he responded “I hope not” after being asked whether the US and Iran were headed toward war, The Washington Post reported.

 

The White House has not officially responded to Trump’s tweets.

Trump issued his threat a few hours after the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Sunday that Iran does not fear a war but the US does, reports Efe news.

Salami said in a speech at a military ceremony broadcast on state-run Iranian TV that Tehran was not seeking war but did not fear it either, in contrast to the US, which is afraid of war and does not have the willpower to engage in one.

He also warned that the entire Middle East could become “a powder keg” for Washington.

Last week, the US decided to deploy to the Persian Gulf the amphibious assault ship USS Arlington, Patriot missiles, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and assorted warplanes, including bombers, after claiming that it had detected unspecified “indications” of Iranian plans to attack US forces in the Middle East.

In recent weeks, concern has been increasing that National Security Adviser John Bolton, a long-time hawk on Iran who was instrumental in instigating the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush, might be working to edge the administration closer to some kind of military action against Tehran.

Last year, prior to bringing Bolton into the administration as one of his top advisers, Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal. More recently, Trump has tightened economic sanctions against the Tehran regime and his administration says it has built up the US military presence in the region.

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International

White House unveils 1st part of Middle East peace plan

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Washington: The White House has unveiled the first part of its Middle East peace proposal, which is being deemed as an economic “workshop” to encourage investing capital in the West Bank, Gaza, and the region, a senior administration official told CNN.

The White House announced on Sunday that the workshop will take place in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25 and 26, bringing together finance ministers with global and regional business leaders.

The effort is being headed by Jared Kushner, the senior White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who have spent years developing the proposal along with the much stickier political component, which officials said would be announced later in the year.

 

Kushner told CNN that “people are letting their grandfathers’ conflict destroy their children’s futures. This will present an exciting, realistic and viable pathway forward that does not currently exist”.

The senior administration official said that the plan will discuss four major components: infrastructure; industry; empowering and investing in people; and governance reforms “to make the area as investible as possible”.

The economic plan will also include a “combination of grant money, low interest loans and then also private capital”, the official said.

The workshop however, will avoid political issues such as whether the Palestinians will get their own state; the status of Jerusalem; measures Israel takes in the name of security; and what should happen with Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were expelled from Israel around the time of the state’s creation in 1948, he added.

Finance ministers, but not foreign ministers, will be invited along with delegations of business leaders.

However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told CNN that the plan was “futile”.

“Any economic plan without political horizons will lead nowhere… Palestinians will not accept any proposals which do not include a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The decision on whether or not Palestinians would attend the workshop would be made by the leadership of Abbas, Abu Rudeineh said, adding that when a similar meeting was held in Washington in March 2018 to discuss ways of improving the economic and humanitarian situation facing Gazans, the Palestinians had chosen to stay away.

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Tourist bus near Egypt’s Gaza pyramids hit with bomb; injures 17

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Cairo: A roadside bomb hit a tourist bus near the Giza Pyramids, wounding at least 17 people including tourists, Egyptian officials said. The officials said the bus was travelling on a road close to the under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum, which is located adjacent to the Giza Pyramids but is not yet open to tourists.

The bus was carrying at least 25 people mostly from South Africa, officials added. The attack comes as Egypt’s vital tourism industry is showing signs of recovery after years in the doldrums because of the political turmoil and violence that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak.

The officials said security forces cordoned off the site of the explosion and the wounded were taken to a nearby hospital. The explosion damaged a windshield of another car, they said. Footage circulated online shows shattered windows of the bus.

 

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief media. Atif Moftah, general supervisor of the Grand Egyptian Museum, said the explosion did not cause any damage to the museum, in a statement issued by the antiquities ministry.

No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. It is the second to target foreign tourists near the famed pyramids in less than six months.

In December, a bus carrying 15 Vietnamese tourists was hit by a roadside bomb, killing at least three of them.

Egypt has battled Islamic militants for years in the Sinai Peninsula in an insurgency that has occasionally spilled over to the mainland, hitting minority Christians or tourists. The insurgency gained strength after the 2013 military overthrow of the country’s first freely elected president, an Islamist whose brief rule sparked mass protests.

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