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U.S., Taliban conclude two-day talks in Qatar amid humanitarian crisis

U.S., Taliban conclude two-day talks in Qatar amid humanitarian crisis
Taliban officials called on their U.S. counterparts to remove sanctions and unfreeze billions of dollars in assets as they concluded two days of talks in Qatar. File Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 30 (UPI) -- The United States and Afghanistan's Taliban-led government concluded two days of talks in Qatar on Tuesday amid a deepening economic and humanitarian crisis in the Middle Eastern country.

Both sides confirmed the conclusion of the two-day discussion in the Qatari capital of Doha, with Taliban officials calling on their U.S. counterparts to remove sanctions and unfreeze billions of dollars in assets.

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The call came as the war-torn country grapples with a humanitarian crisis the United Nations has repeatedly warned is teetering toward a catastrophe.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the spokesman for the Taliban's ministry of foreign affairs, tweeted they urged the United States for "immediate unconditional unfreezing of Afghan reserves, ending of sanctions and blacklists and disconnecting humanitarian issues from political considerations."

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The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan amid the U.S. military withdrawal in August, prompting Washington to freeze nearly $9.5 billion in assets of the Afghan central bank. The World Bank also ended financial support to Afghanistan as did the International Monetary Fund.

The United States has also imposed sanctions and blacklisted Taliban leadership that has some organizations worried the measures will hinder the humanitarian response.

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The U.S. delegation, led by Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West, pledged during the talks to support the efforts of U.N. and humanitarian groups to "scale up to meet life-saving needs this coming winter," the State Department said in a statement, while seemingly being steadfast on keeping sanctions intact.

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"The United States remains committed to ensuring that U.S. sanctions do not limit the ability of Afghan civilians to receive humanitarian support from the U.S. government and international community while denying assets to sanctions entities and individuals," it said.

The State Department pointed to general licenses the Treasury has issued since the Taliban assumed the helm of Afghanistan as evidence of its continued support for the flow of humanitarian assistance to those in need.

The department continued that the Taliban "emphasized" the importance of fulfilling its commitment to prevent anyone from posing a threat to any country from Afghan soil and to allow safe passage for U.S. citizens and Afghans to whom the U.S. has a special commitment.

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"The U.S. delegation noted recent statements from Taliban leaders expressing support for women and girls' access to education at all levels and urged implementation of that commitment countrywide," the department said. "The Taliban expressed openness to engaging with the international community on full access to education and welcomed efforts to verify and monitor progress to enroll women and girls in schools at all levels."

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Earlier this month, West told reporters in a special briefing via telephone that the United States and its allies want to see progress in Afghanistan on human rights, minority rights and the rights of women and girls, including seeing women as part of the humanitarian response.

"Statements are not enough," he said Nov. 8. "We want to see steps taken to form an inclusive and representatives government."

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