Moscow Meeting: Russia calls for ‘total pullout of foreign forces’ from Afghanistan

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called for the complete withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan at a meeting in Moscow attended by a Taliban delegation.

The 14-member delegation headed by the Taliban’s deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is in Moscow for two days of talks with senior Afghan politicians and tribal elders.

“Russia is convinced that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The only possible way…is to achieve peace by political and diplomatic means,” Lavrov told a May 28 meeting marking the centenary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Afghanistan.

“We are calling for a total pullout of foreign forces from the country. We are calling on all Afghan sides to start talks as soon as possible involving a broad range of social and political forces,” Lavrov said, while welcoming the Taliban delegation’s participation in the event, despite the fact that the militant movement is designated a terrorist organization in Russia.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Afghan Ambassador to Russia Mohammad Latif Bahand also attended the event, TASS reported. It was not immediately clear if Bahand will hold talks with the Taliban delegation.

In a May 27 statement, spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Taliban negotiators would meet with Afghan politicians and tribal elders in Moscow to discuss the future of Afghanistan.

Mujahid did not say whether Taliban envoys would meet with any Afghan government officials.

The meeting in Moscow comes amid a push by the United States for a peace settlement with the Taliban.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal with the Taliban, has held several rounds of talks with the militants in Qatar in recent months.

The sides have made progress, but the Taliban has so far rejected the idea of direct negotiations with the Afghan government. A summit planned for April in Qatar was canceled.

Taliban officials met a delegation of Afghan power brokers in Moscow in November and February, but those talks did not include members of President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

Khalilzad welcomed Russia’s efforts in the peace process, although some U.S. officials have said Moscow is promoting itself as a power broker in order to challenge the U.S.-backed peace process with the Taliban in Qatar.

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