(Bloomberg) -- Russia is hosting a delegation from the Taliban along with regional powers in the first such meeting since the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August brought the radical Islamic movement to power.
A deputy prime minister of the interim Afghan government, Abdul Salam Hanafi, who played an important role in peace negotiations with the U.S., is the most senior figure attending the Moscow talks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his government’s priority is to encourage the Taliban to form an inclusive administration that includes other political forces. While Russia like China kept its embassy open in Kabul as Western governments scrambled to evacuate their diplomats, it hasn’t recognized the Taliban’s rule. The interim government is dominated by Taliban hardliners.
The U.S., which previously took part in the so-called “Moscow Format” talks, isn’t participating this time because of the resignation of U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. He’s been replaced by his deputy, Tom West.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged the U.S. to gradually unfreeze Afghan assets, warning that the lack of funds may push the Taliban into arms- and drug-trafficking.
The European Union earlier this month announced a billion euro ($1.16 billion) emergency humanitarian aid package.
Putin last week told counterparts from the ex-Soviet Union that there’s a real threat of an upsurge in extremist activity in the region following the Taliban takeover. Russia estimates that there are 2,000 Islamic State fighters massed in northern Afghanistan whose leaders are planning to spread their influence to central Asian states and Russian regions, he said.
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