US backs opening Taliban office in Qatar: report
Washington welcomes plans for Taliban to open political headquarters in Qatar as a way to begin talks with the movement by the end of 2011
The United States has endorsed plans for the Taliban to open political headquarters in the Gulf state of Qatar by the end of the year, British newspaper The Times reported on Monday.
The move is designed to allow the West to begin formal peace talks with the Taliban, Western diplomats told the paper.
The office of the self-styled Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan would be the first internationally recognised representation for the Taliban since it was ousted from power by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Western diplomats told The Times it was hoped that opening a Taliban office in Qatar would push forward the prospect of talks intended to reconcile insurgents with the Afghan government and bring an end to the decade-long war.
Washington is believed to have insisted that the office be located "outside Pakistan's sphere of influence", the report said.
"It will be an address where they have a political office," one Western diplomatic source, who was not named, told The Times.
"It will not be an embassy or a consulate but a residence where they can be treated like a political party."
The diplomat stressed that the Taliban would not be allowed to use the office in the Qatari capital, Doha, to raise funds.
The Times reported that the Taliban was seeking assurances that its representatives would be free from the threat of harassment or arrest.
Britain, which has the second largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan, declined to say whether it supported the creation of a Taliban office in Qatar. "This is a matter for the United States," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.
The US ambassador to Kabul said last week that the Taliban must feel "more pain" from increased military pressure before progress can be made in peace talks.
"The Taliban needs to feel more pain before you get to a real readiness to reconcile," Ryan Crocker said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.