US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds crisis talks in Qatar over Afghanistan

Photo: AP US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Qatar’s emir in Doha on Monday for crisis talks on Afghanistan after the Taliban claimed to have full control over the country, AFP reported. Blinken, accompanied by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, is the most senior US official to visit the region since the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan on 15 August.

In his meeting with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Blinken thanked the Gulf state ruler for “Qatar’s extraordinary support in facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, our partners, and other Afghans at-risk” during the United States’ chaotic military pullout from Afghanistan.

The top diplomat was not due to meet any of the Taliban’s Doha representatives, but State Department official Dean Thompson said Washington would continue to engage with the Islamist group “to ensure our messaging with them is clear”.

Qatar, which hosts a major US airbase, has been the gateway for 55,000 people airlifted out of Afghanistan, nearly half the total number evacuated by US-led forces after the Taliban’s takeover.

Before his arrival, Blinken said he will also meet US diplomats, after Washington relocated its embassy in Kabul to Doha, along with a number of allies including Britain and the Netherlands.

The State Department said Blinken would discuss with Qatar its efforts, alongside Turkey, to reopen Kabul’s airport—essential to fly in badly needed humanitarian aid and to evacuate remaining Afghans.

Qatar invited the Taliban to open a political office in Doha in 2013, subsequently hosting talks between Washington and the Taliban that concluded in 2020 with a troop withdrawal agreement. It was followed by direct negotiations between the former insurgents and the Afghan government.

After Doha, Blinken will head Wednesday to the US air base at Ramstein in Germany, where he will hold a virtual 20-nation ministerial meeting on the crisis alongside German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

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