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An update on Moscow's position with regard to negotiations with Taliban

17.11.2008 13:24 msk

Vremya novostei

Analytics Afghanistan

The latest reports from Afghanistan where the irreconcilable opposition reverted to violence and terror indicate that the country may find itself back in civil war. This problem is becoming a serious headache for the West that keeps a major military contingent in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai was quoted as saying yesterday that he was prepared to offer Taliban leader Mullah Omar guarantees of safety in return for his consent to negotiate with official Kabul. Observers tentatively attribute it the forthcoming change of strategy in Afghanistan US president-elect Barack Obama will initiate. His advisors already speak of the possibility of negotiations with moderate Talibs.

Russia's stand on the matter is analogous to the American and comes down to the simple axiom: whenever the enemy refuses to surrender, he ought to be destroyed. Does it apply to Taliban? Moscow based Vremya Novostei approached Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for comments.

Question: Is Moscow still implacable toward negotiations with the Taliban?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: We have no implacable position. Our position is based on the decisions of the UN Security Council. There is the Security Council Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee in New York. It has a list of persons accused of terrorist activities and subject to those sanctions. There can be no contacts with them. This is not even Russia’s position; it’s the Security Council’s. We shall keep upholding it.

There are those who will be ready to lay down their arms, repent for having led a wrong way of life and take a reconciliation path… I am convinced: for none of the Taliban members who have not sullied themselves with terrorist activities the way into politics is closed. Of course it is not. But the top Taliban leaders, who are well known and whom the Security Council has designated as the culprit of the tragedy of the Afghan people – they can’t be forgiven.

Question: Moscow has never expressed its position on the initiative put forward several times in recent months by Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov. Tashkent suggests resuming the activities of the ‘Six plus Two’ Group on Afghanistan, by turning it into a ‘Six plus Three’ Group by including NATO there. What do you make of this?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The ‘Six plus Two’ group existed in the hot stage of the conflict in Afghanistan. It was made up of Afghanistan’s six neighbors and of Russia and the United States. There wasn’t even Afghanistan itself there. How can one speak of a new process on Afghanistan today by adding NATO to this company and saying nothing about the Afghan government? Here it is necessary to act along the established or emerging lines. There is the UN Security Council which considers Afghan problems, there is the UN General Assembly which concerns itself with the socioeconomic aspects of overcoming the consequences of what occurred and continues to occur there. There is also the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group. It is ideal for concrete discussions on a number of questions, primarily such as putting an end to narcotics production and trafficking. Afghanistan participates in this contact group; it is regularly invited to Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits. We are now in accordance with the decision of the last summit preparing our considerations for the preparation of a conference on Afghanistan under the aegis of the SCO, but with the invitation of all the main actors, including those who do not participate in the SCO. Whereas the ‘Six plus Two plus One’ without Afghanistan – this is not very correct, it does not add anything new to the existing settlement mechanisms.

Question: What will you say about Uzbekistan’s decision to withdraw from the EurAsEC organization?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Participation in EurAsEC, as in any organization, is a sovereign right of any country. Of course, it would be in our common interest to continue cooperation with Uzbekistan in EurAsEC. Nevertheless we treat this decision with respect. We will continue to cooperate bilaterally.

Arkady Dubnov, Vremya Novostei, No 212, November 17, 2008, p. 5