Iran in Talks With Taliban as U.S. Plans to Limit Role

(Bloomberg) -- Iran is holding talks with the Taliban to help address Afghanistan’s security challenges, said a representative to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asserting a role in the country’s future just as the U.S. weighs cutting back its involvement.

"All interactions and talks with the Taliban were done with the knowledge of the Afghan government and this process is ongoing," said Ali Shamkhani, the chairman of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, according to state-run Tasnim news agency.

Shamkhani, who arrived in Kabul on Wednesday, met with Afghanistan’s national security adviser and will hold talks with its president and other senior officials, Tasnim reported.

The meetings are taking place as the U.S. considers slashing its 14,000-member fighting force in Afghanistan in half and peace talks are floundering.

“Iran has no substantial influence over the Taliban to help bring the group to negotiations” with the Afghan government, said Ali Yawar Adili, an analyst with Kabul-based Afghan Analysts Network. But it’s signaling to the U.S. and its Gulf allies that it’s part of the Afghan peace efforts, he said.

President Donald Trump has sought to end a war that’s plagued the U.S. for 17 years through negotiations. Trump appointed Afghan-born and former U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad as his special envoy on Afghan reconciliation, assigning him to help convince the militants to sit down for peace talks with Afghan government.

The militants who control or contest half of Afghanistan have repeatedly rebuffed President Ashraf Ghani’s calls for direct talks because they deem his administration illegitimate. The group said it’s ready to negotiate with the U.S.

The U.S. and the Taliban failed to reach an agreement after a two-day meeting last week in Abu Dhabi on the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Previous rounds of talks in August and July also failed to reach a breakthrough.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.