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Russia Criticizes Reported U.S. Refusal To Join Moscow Talks On Afghanistan

Taliban fighters celebrate a cease-fire in the Ghanikhel district of Nangarhar Province on June 16.
Taliban fighters celebrate a cease-fire in the Ghanikhel district of Nangarhar Province on June 16.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has criticized Washington's reported refusal to send delegates to Moscow-hosted peace talks on Afghanistan after Interfax quoted a U.S. State Department spokesperson as saying the United States would not take part in the September 4 meeting.

A statement from the Russian ministry on August 22 said Washington's "refusal to attend the Moscow meeting on Afghanistan show Washington has no interest in launching a peace process in Afghanistan."

"We have learned with regret from the United States Department of State's statement that the Americans will not take part in the Moscow" meeting, the ministry said. "Admittedly, this step does not cause great surprise."

In a push to have a more prominent role in Afghanistan, Russia says it invited representatives from 11 other countries to the talks, including the United States.

The Foreign Ministry said on August 22 that other countries invited to the talks included Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Iran, India, and the five former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on August 21 that representatives of the Taliban had also been invited to the Moscow meeting and had accepted.

"The first reaction was positive," Lavrov said. "They are planning to take part in the meeting.

A senior Taliban commander also confirmed that the militant group would send a delegation to Russia "for the sake of finding peace in Afghanistan."

That Taliban member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Taliban delegates would also be sent to other countries in the region -- including Pakistan and China -- "to take them into confidence and address their concerns."

Russia is also rejecting claims by the Afghan government that Russia aims to use the Taliban to fight against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

The claim was made by Afghan Ambassador Abdul Qayyum Kochai. But the Russia Foreign Ministry said it was based on "insinuations" and "completely distorts the meaning of Russia's policy on Afghanistan."

An IS affiliate in Afghanistan has staged a series of major attacks in recent years and has repeatedly clashed with Taliban fighters.

That Afghan branch of IS has been seen as threatening to Russia and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia because it includes many battle-hardened Uzbek militants.

"I can't even hypothetically imagine how Russia could sue the Taliban for fighting IS," Lavrov said on August 21. "We fight the IS with all means available. We support Syria in that struggle. We help equip the Iraqi Army for the same goal and we naturally would like to see the people of Afghanistan getting rid of IS."

Russian President Vladimir Putin supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But Moscow has been stepping up its own diplomatic outreach across the region, and has grown increasingly critical of U.S. actions, as relations with Washington have deteriorated in recent years.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, Interfax, and TASS