Hope Strained For Afghanistan Peace Talks

Proposed peace talks with the Taliban seem to be on one minute, then off the next. Controversy erupted last week when the Taliban opened an office in Doha, Qatar, where talks are supposed to begin.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

NATO allies officially handed over responsibility to the Afghanistan security forces this past week. President Obama has said that all U.S. combat troops will be out by the end of 2014. In this hour, we'll get several perspectives on what that means for Afghanistan. In a moment, we'll hear from one American businesswoman who left her Kabul business behind after five years.

But first, the proposed peace talks with the Taliban. This past week, the Taliban opened an office in Qatar in the hopes of holding peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan governments. But the building itself caused controversy, enough to scuttle those talks, at least temporarily.

NPR's Sean Carberry has this report from Doha, the capital of Qatar.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: I'm standing outside the Taliban office here in Doha. It's a two-story, sand-colored building sitting in a quiet residential neighborhood. There's no sign of activity inside or outside the building at this time. In the distance, ultra-modern skyscrapers hover above. And, it's not just these towers that are casting a shadow over the Taliban office.

Problems began when Taliban officials held a ceremony where they raised their flag and opened the facility, as the office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. That was the name of the Taliban government back in the '90s, and that set off Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He immediately broke off talks. The Taliban did lower their flag and removed the sign on the office. Right now, there is no sign or flag visible.

And today, Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government will move forward with talks if the Taliban make assurances they will not treat their office like an embassy.

And, speaking in Doha yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry raised doubts about whether talks will proceed at all.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Nothing comes easily in this endeavor and we understand that. And the road ahead will be difficult, no question about it - if there is a road ahead.

CARBERRY: Kerry said that the office might have to be closed. Speaking to the Associated Press, a Taliban representative says they are still willing to move forward with the talks. But for now, the office here is quiet.

Sean Carberry, NPR News, Doha.

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