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US delegation to meet Taliban in first high-level talks: officials

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The high-level US delegation will include officials from the State Department, USAID and the US intelligence community, and will press the Taliban to ensure continued safe passage for US citizens and others out of Afghanistan, the officials say.

A US delegation will meet with senior Taliban representatives in Doha on Saturday and Sunday in their first face-to-face meeting at a senior level since Washington pulled its troops from Afghanistan and the group took over the country, two senior administration officials have told Reuters.

The high-level US delegation will include officials from the State Department, USAID and the US intelligence community, will press the Taliban to ensure continued safe passage for US citizens and others out of Afghanistan and to release kidnapped US citizen Mark Frerichs, the officials said.

Another top priority will be to hold the Taliban to its commitment that it will not allow Afghanistan to again become a hotbed for Al Qaeda or other militants while pressing the group to improve access for humanitarian aid as the country faces the prospect of a “really severe and probably impossible to prevent” economic contraction, US officials said.

READ MORE: Taliban warns against isolating Afghanistan, ready for talks

‘Any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions’

US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who has for years spearheaded US dialogue with the Taliban and been a key figure in peace talks with the group, will not be part of the delegation.

The US team will include the State Department’s Deputy Special Representative Tom West as well as top USAID humanitarian official Sarah Charles. On The Taliban side, cabinet officials will be attending, officials said.

“This meeting is a continuation of the pragmatic engagements with the Taliban that we’ve had ongoing on matters of vital national interest,” said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“This meeting is not about granting recognition or conferring legitimacy. We remain clear that any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions. They need to establish a sustained track record,” the official said.

US-allied Afghans at risk

The United States’ two decades-long occupation of Afghanistan culminated in a hastily organised airlift in August which saw more than 124,000 civilians including Americans, Afghans and others being evacuated as the Taliban took over. But thousands of other US-allied Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution were left behind.

Washington and other Western countries are grappling with difficult choices as a severe humanitarian crisis looms large over Afghanistan. They are trying to formulate how to engage with the Taliban without granting it the legitimacy it seeks while ensuring humanitarian aid flows into the country.

Many Afghans have started selling their possessions to pay for ever-scarcer food.

The departure of US-led forces and many international donors robbed the country of grants that financed 75% of public spending, according to the World Bank.

While there was an improvement for humanitarian actors get access to some areas that they haven’t been in a decade, problems still persisted, the US official said, adding that the US delegation would press Taliban to improve.

“Right now, we are facing some real access issues….There are a lot of challenges in ensuring that female aid workers are provided unimpeded access to all areas,” the official said and added that Washington needed to see an improvement by the Taliban on this front “if we are to contemplate even more robust humanitarian assistance.”

READ MORE: UN agency warns Afghanistan at risk of ‘imminent’ famine

Pressure on women’s rights

While the Taliban has promised to be more inclusive than when it led the country from 1996 to 2001, the United States has repeatedly said it will judge the new Taliban government based on its deeds not its words.

The Taliban drew from its inner high echelons to fill top posts in Afghanistan’s new provisional government announced last month, including an associate of the group’s founder as premier and a wanted man on a US terrorism list as interior minister. There were no outsiders and no women in the cabinet.

The European Union foreign policy chief said on Sunday its behaviour up to now was “not very encouraging.”

“We will certainly press the Taliban to respect the rights of all Afghans including women and girls and to form an inclusive government with broad support,” the US official said.

READ MORE: Taliban-run Kabul municipality orders female workers to stay home

He added that there were discrepancies between the Taliban’s promises of continued safe passage and implementation.

“As a practical matter, their implementation of their commitments have been uneven. It is true that sometimes we receive assurances from certain levels but then follow through on those assurances has truly been uneven,” the official said.

The United States has directly facilitated the departure of 105 US citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents out of Afghanistan since August 31, when US withdrawal was completed, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Thursday.

He declined to provide a precise figure for those remaining, but said the agency was in contact with “dozens of Americans in Afghanistan who wish to leave” but that the number was dynamic and constantly changing.

READ MORE: Moscow invites Taliban to Afghanistan talks

Source: Reuters (www.trtworld.com)

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England lifts COVID-19 pandemic restriction-Omicron marks end of the pandemic.

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England has lifted its restrictions implemented in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking at a press conference at Downing Street, Health Secretary Sajid Javad stated that the England will be lifting the restrictions implemented in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic but the legal requirement to self-isolate if tested positive for the virus will continue.

While Health Secretary Sajid Javad stated that it was a major milestone, he also stated that “It’s not the end of the road and we shouldn’t see this as the finish line because we cannot eradicate this virus and its future variants. Instead we must learn to live with Covid in the same way we have to live with flu”.

This has also meant that the work-from-home guidance would be ending with the majority of the nation’s workforce reverting to pre-pandemic work schedules. Additionally, students will also be no longer required to wear masks at schools.

Moreover, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also confirmed that the Government plans to end the legal requirement for positive cases to isolate by late March, but may move the date forward.

The U.S. has also hinted that the pandemic may be heading towards an end. Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci has stated that the Omicron variant may mark the end of the pandemic.

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New Japanese Ambassador Takeuchi Midori presents her credentials to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

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The new Japanese ambassador to the Maldives, Takeuchi Midori has presented her credentials to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Ambassador Takeuchi Midori presented her credentials to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih at a special ceremony held earlier today at the President’s Office.

Speaking at the ceremony President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih noted on the Ambassador Takeuchi Midori’s predecessor Keiko Yanai’s work in enhancing bilateral relations between the two nations. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih expressed hope in continuing to further strengthen the bilateral relations between the two nations under Ambassador Takeuchi Midori tenure.

Ambassador Takeuchi Midori also spoke at the ceremony, noting that this year marks the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Maldives and Japan. She expressed hope that the two nations would work together on regional and global issues.

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China’s homemade C919 passenger plane to be delivered this year

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China’s self-developed C919 large passenger aircraft will be delivered within this year, The Paper reported on Wednesday, citing its developer.

Wu Yongliang, deputy general manager of the Shanghai-based Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), said the pandemic’s impact on the C919 project has been controllable, and the work is progressing in an orderly manner.

American aerospace manufacturer Boeing and France-based Airbus have long been the so-called duopoly in the commercial airline market worth trillions of U.S. dollars.

The C919, as part of China’s goal to develop homemade civil airplanes, is trying to rival with medium-range aircraft from the two global giants, such as Airbus’s A320 and Boeing’s 737 MAX.

C919 has 158 to 168 seats, a standard range of 4,075 kilometers and a maximum range of 5,555 kilometers. It had its successful maiden flight in 2017.

China Eastern Airlines, one of the country’s largest airlines also headquartered in Shanghai, signed a contract to buy five C919 jetliners from COMAC in March 2021.

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