Qatar to act as US diplomatic representative in Afghanistan: Blinken

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday agreed to set up an interests section in Afghanistan under Qatar, assisting US citizens following the shuttering of the embassy during the Taliban takeover.

Welcoming his Qatari counterpart to Washington, US State Secretary Antony Blinken signed an agreement that established Qatar as the United States’ “protecting power in Afghanistan” with the Gulf ally to establish a US interests section at its Kabul embassy.

Qatar will establish a US interests section within its own embassy in Kabul to provide consular and other services to American citizens in Afghanistan, Blinken said.

Qatar will also assume responsibility for the security and protection of now-vacant US diplomatic facilities in the Afghan capital.

The US has numerous protecting power agreements in countries where it does not have diplomatic representation. Those notably include Switzerland in Iran, Sweden in North Korea and the Czech Republic in Syria.

“Let me again say how grateful we are for your leadership, your support on Afghanistan, but also to note that our partnership is much broader than that,” Blinken told Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

Qatar, home to a major US military base, has played a major role both in the diplomacy and the evacuations as the US ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Around half of the 124,000 Westerners and Western-allied Afghans flown out in the waning days of the US military involvement transited through Qatar.

The Qataris earlier played host to negotiations between the US and Taliban that led to the February 2020 agreement for the US to withdraw troops.

Since the Taliban takeover, US embassy operations in Kabul have been relocated to Qatar.

The US closed down its embassy in Kabul, which was one of its largest in the world, in August as it became clear that the Western-backed government was falling, with diplomats destroying sensitive materials and taking down the flag.

Despite the Taliban’s draconian 1996-2001 regime and years of war with the US, American officials have been cautiously optimistic on dealing with the Taliban, saying that the group is largely carrying out promises to let people leave the country.

But the US has ruled out any immediate recognition or reopening of its embassy in Kabul, saying it is waiting to see that the Taliban make good on other concerns including on the treatment of women and prohibiting Al Qaeda from basing operations in Afghanistan.

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