RIYADH (AFP) — Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that the kingdom has been sponsoring talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban militia.
But Prince Saud warned that any further talks would require a readiness by the warring Afghan factions to lay down their arms and embrace the political process.
"At the request of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the kingdom has led an attempt with the Afghan parties to put an end to the fighting in Afghanistan and restore security and stability," he said.
"If we detect a willingness on the part of the Afghan parties to resolve political problems, renounce violence, lay down their arms and enter the political mainstream, there will be further attempts.
"But if that doesn't happen, it will be difficult to undertake any new initiative," the foreign minister told a joint news conference with visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
The elder brother of the US-backed Afghan president said on October 9 that a visit he made to Saudi Arabia last month was part of an Afghan push for the kingdom to convene peace talks with Taliban insurgents.
Qayoum Karzai said no representatives of the militia were present at the meeting although the Afghan delegation had included former Taliban leaders.
The previous day, former Taliban leaders said they shared a meal with the president's brother and other Afghan government officials but stressed the meeting did not amount to peace talks.
Their comments followed a report by the Saudi-owned daily Asharq Al-Awsat that the two sides had held three days of talks under Saudi auspices in the Muslim holy city of Mecca during the run-up to the end of the fasting month of Ramadan on September 29.
Several Western countries have expressed support for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban but the prospect has drawn strong opposition from Shiite Iran.
"Today, the whole world knows about the strategic failure of foreign forces in Afghanistan and we advise them not to try a new failure," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Sunday.
"The West should not think that they can confine extremism to Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia," Mottaki said, warning that extremism would one day also reach Europe and the West.
The hardline Sunni Taliban had hostile relations with neighbouring Iran, which was a major backer of the Afghan opposition to the militia's rule before the Taliban were overthrown in the US-led invasion of 2001.
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