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Report: U.S. urges UN-led Afghan peace talks and warns of Taliban "territorial gain" threat

Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani steps including a UN-facilitated summit to revive stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Afghanistan's TOLOnews first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Blinken expresses concern in the letter, also obtained by Western news outlets, of a potential "spring offensive by the Taliban" and that the "security situation will worsen and the Taliban could make rapid territorial gain" after an American military withdrawal, even with the continuation of U.S. financial aid.

Exclusive: US Secretary Antony Blinken in a letter to President Ghani--similar to one shared with Chairman Abdullah--presents four suggestions for Afghan peace process (see thread):

— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) March 7, 2021

For the record: As part of a deal struck last year with the Taliban, former President Trump pledged a full withdrawal of some 2,500 American troops remaining in Afghanistan by May 1.

  • In the letter, confirmed by U.S. and Afghan officials to the New York Times, Blinken states that the Biden administration is still "considering the full withdrawal of our forces" by May 1, "as we consider other options."

Zoom in: Blinken suggests to Ghani a United Nations-facilitated conference with "Foreign Ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the United States to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan."

  • He's also calling for a 90-day reduction in violence in Afghanistan, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been asked to share with Ghani and the Taliban leaders "written proposals aimed at accelerating discussions on a negotiated settlement and ceasefire."
  • The U.S. will ask Turkey to host a senior-level meeting of "both sides in the coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement," Blinken wrote.
"I am making this clear to you so that you understand the urgency of my tone regarding the collective work outlined in this letter."

What they're saying: The State Department has declined to comment on the letter, but released a statement to media saying that "all options remain on the table" in regards to withdrawing U.S. troops.

  • "We have not made any decisions about our force posture in Afghanistan after May 1," the statement added.

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