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Russia, Iran urge dialogue between Afghanistan, Taliban

By Allen Cone
Russia, Iran urge dialogue between Afghanistan, Taliban
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a joint news conference Tuesday after their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow. Photo by Sergei Karpukhin/pool/EPA

March 29 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, after meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Kremlin, urged a direct negotiation between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Russia has viewed the Taliban in Afghanistan as a terrorist organization but in December 2015 said "the Taliban interest objectively coincides with ours" in fighting the so-called Islamic State.

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"We discussed the situation in Afghanistan, stressing the importance of national reconciliation in that country," Putin said Tuesday. "Russia believes that Iran made a fruitful contribution at multilateral talks in Moscow in February by joining the international efforts aimed at the launch of a constructive dialogue between the Afghan government and Taliban militants."

The statement described poor conditions in Afghanistan.

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"Putin and Rouhani expressed concern over the continuing deterioration of the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and the growth of terrorist threats from extremist forces in that state," the statement said. "Russia and Iran reaffirmed their readiness to continue to help strengthen the statehood of Afghanistan, its emergence as a peaceful, democratic, independent and prosperous state."

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Last week, U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the top U.S. general in Europe, told the Senate Committee on Armed Services that Russia may be giving material support to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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On Friday, Zamir Kabulov, the Kremlin's special envoy in Afghanistan, said the allegation was "absolutely false.

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But Russia's approach toward the Taliban has softened in the past year, the BBC reported. That may be in response to Russia's efforts to counter the Islamic State and keep its citizens safe in areas where the Taliban has expanded.

Putin, lauding Iran as a "good neighbor and reliable and stable partner," also agreed Tuesday to work with Iran on other crises in the Middle East as they "share many years, if not centuries, of bilateral cooperation."

In a joint statement, the two leaders "supported efforts aimed at preventing and resolving crises in the Middle East and North Africa through an inclusive national dialogue in compliance with the norms of international law."

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Russia and Iran back the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad against U.S.-backed rebels.

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"While respecting Syria's independence, unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity and proceeding from the principled stance that there is no alternative to tackling the Syrian problem by peaceful means, Russia and Iran spoke out in favor of resolving the conflict in Syria by political and diplomatic means on the basis of the principles set forth in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254," the statement said.

At the same time, Putin and Rouhani expressed strong support for the efforts "made by the Syrian authorities, the army and people's militia over the past six years aimed at the fight against terrorism, specifically, the Islamic State, [Jabhat Fateh al-Sham] and other groups affiliated with them."

The two countries' presidents support the U.N..-backed Geneva talks.

The statement "noted the work by Russia, Iran and Turkey in a trilateral framework, which created conditions for holding the intra-Syrian dialogue in Astana and ensured the possibility of establishing effective and sustainable cease-fire in Syria."

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