Western diplomats begin humanitarian talks with Taliban in Norway


Oslo (Reuters) – U.S. and European diplomats began talks with representatives of Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Monday on how to alleviate the country’s humanitarian crisis.

With millions of Afghans at risk of starvation this winter as poverty deepens, Norway is facilitating the meetings.

Norway and its NATO allies do not formally recognise the Taliban-led administration that seized power last year, but see talks as a necessity, given the depth of the crisis.

“We will continue clear-eyed diplomacy with the Taliban regarding our concerns and our abiding interest in a stable, rights-respecting and inclusive Afghanistan,” U.S. special representative Thomas West tweeted on Sunday.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the European Union, as well as Norway, joined the meetings.

Oslo’s invitation was criticised by some Afghan exile groups as well as Norway’s right-wing opposition Progress Party, which said any cooperation with the Taliban would only serve to strengthen the militant group’s position.

But Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said Afghanistan’s 39 million people were being overwhelmed by an economic collapse, the COVID-19 pandemic and drought.

“One million children may die of hunger if aid does not reach them in time, and an unfathomable 97% of the population may fall below the poverty line this year,” she said.

The Taliban delegation, led by acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, will not be granted meetings with Huitfeldt or other cabinet-level ministers, but may meet with a junior minister, Norway has said.

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