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Taliban eases stance on flag, office in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar — The Taliban signaled a willingness to meet demands to keep its flag lowered as the United States warned Saturday that the militant group's newly opened political office in Qatar might have to be closed as talks aimed at ending nearly 12 years of war in Afghanistan remained in limbo.

Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Taliban to step back from the brink and begin what he called the "difficult" road ahead. He said the main U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan was in Doha and "waiting to find out whether the Taliban will respond."

The Taliban's office opened Tuesday to much fanfare and a simultaneous announcement that U.S. officials would begin formal talks with Taliban representatives, which eventually would be joined by the Afghan government. That raised hopes that the long-stalled peace process aimed at ending Washington's longest war could finally begin.

But it ran into trouble from the outset when Afghan President Hamid Karzai temporarily withdrew from talks to protest the Taliban's use of its old flag and a sign bearing the name of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which the movement used during its five-year rule that ended in 2001 with the U.S.-led invasion.

After intervention from the Qatar government, the flag was lowered and the sign changed to the "Political Bureau of the Taliban Afghan in Doha." The United States and Qatar said the Taliban had agreed on the pre-approved name but violated the pact at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

A Taliban spokesman in Doha, Shaheen Suhail, suggested the Taliban was willing to move forward despite "much anger" among some members over the removal of the name and the lowering of the Taliban flag — a white flag emblazoned with a Koranic verse in black.

"In the past 12 years, the opening of the political office is the first ray in the direction of peace in Afghanistan," Suhail said. "Those who want real peace in the county should support this move. These are the first days. There should not be high expectations to see everything resolved in one day, nor should there be disappointments."

Deadly violence: Taliban militants attacked local security checkpoints in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, killing two policemen in a fight that also left 18 insurgents dead, Afghan officials said Saturday. NATO said a coalition service member also died in a militant attack in the south on Saturday, but did not provide further details.

Prayer for captive: Jani and Bob Bergdahl, the parents of captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, pray at the “Bring Bowe Back” celebration on Saturday in Hailey, Idaho. Hundreds joined the event. The sergeant has been held by the Taliban since 2009.

Associated Press

Prayer for captive: Jani and Bob Bergdahl, the parents of captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, pray at the “Bring Bowe Back” celebration on Saturday in Hailey, Idaho. Hundreds joined the event. The sergeant has been held by the Taliban since 2009.

Taliban eases stance on flag, office in Qatar 06/22/13 [Last modified: Sunday, June 23, 2013 1:12am]

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