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US delegation to meet Taliban in first high-level talks since pullout

US delegation to meet Taliban in first high-level talks since pullout

Washington: In a first face-to-face meeting at a senior level since Washington pulled its troops from Afghanistan and the hardline group took over the country, a U.S. delegation will meet with senior Taliban representatives in Doha on Saturday and Sunday.

"This meeting is a continuation of the pragmatic engagements with the Taliban that we've had ongoing on matters of vital national interest," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

As per a report by Reuters, the high-level U.S. delegation will include officials from the State Department, USAID and the U.S. intelligence community.

The State Department official said that "the continued safe pathe ssage out of Afghanistan of US and other foreign nationals and Afghans to whom we have a special committee who seek to leave the country" is among the key priorities for the meeting, which was first reported by Reuters.

Another top priority will be to hold the Taliban to its commitment that it will not allow Afghanistan to again become a hotbed for al Qaeda or other extremists.

The meeting is also aimed at pressing the group to improve access to humanitarian aid as the country faces the prospect of a "really severe and probably impossible to prevent" economic contraction, U.S. officials said.

The official remarked that the meeting is not about granting recognition or conferring legitimacy and pointed out that the militant group needs to establish a sustained track record.

According to the State Department official, the US also intends to push the Taliban "to respect the rights of all Afghans, including women and girls, and to form an inclusive government with broad support."

The United States' two-decades-long occupations of Afghanistan culminated in a hastily organized airlift in August which saw more than 124,000 civilians including Americans, Afghans and others being evacuated as the Taliban took over. But thousands of other U.S.-allied Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution were left behind.

Washington and other Western countries are grappling with difficult choices as a severe humanitarian crisis looms large over Afghanistan. They are trying to formulate how to engage with the Taliban without granting it the legitimacy it seeks while ensuring humanitarian aid flows into the country.

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