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Russian Envoy Rejects U.S. Claim Moscow Is Arming Afghan Taliban

Russian special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov

Russia's special envoy to Afghanistan has dismissed claims by the Pentagon that Moscow has provided arms to the Taliban during its 16-year war against U.S. forces and the Afghan government.

Zamir Kabulov said at a news briefing in Moscow on March 29 that the Taliban has been able to buy all the weapons it needs illegally from the Afghan government and police, and Russia has also refused to give the militants money for arms purchases.

Kabulov said that Russia's contacts with the Taliban have been aimed at ensuring the safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan and encouraging the Taliban to join peace talks.

"We established the contacts a few years ago when we became seriously worried about possible terror threats for the Russian mission and Russian citizens in Afghanistan," he said.

"It was important for us to clarify the Taliban's plans regarding our citizens, and we received assurances that they have no hostile intentions toward Russians."

Kabulov said some Taliban leaders favor peace negotiations with the Kabul government, but so far they are in the minority.

He said Pakistan and Iran must play a role in Afghan peace efforts and warned the United States against trying to sideline either.

"Pakistan and Iran, not Russia or the U.S., are the two key players in the Afghan settlement," he said. "We are trying to develop a dialogue with Pakistan and jointly search for solutions."

Kabulov said Russia initially supported the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which was launched months after the September 11, 2001, attacks and initially aimed at eliminating havens used by Al-Qaeda militants who planned those attacks.

"We expected the Americans to eradicate terrorism and drug-trafficking there," he said, but now, "It's difficult for us to support something that hasn't solved problems but only exacerbated them over the past 17 years."

Based on reporting by AP and Interfax