News Briefs – December 7, 2018


U.S. envoy for Afghan peace in Pakistan for talks on Taliban

Washington’s special envoy tasked with finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s bloody 17-year-old war met Dec. 4 with Pakistani officials, and a Taliban official said four members from the group’s political office in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar were also in the Pakistani capital.
But the visit by the Taliban leaders, which included a former Taliban ambassador and a former governor who is also on a United Nations sanctions list, is “private,” the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Pakistan routinely tells a grumbling Washington that its influence over the Taliban is exaggerated, yet in the past have exhibited sufficient sway over the insurgent movement to summon their leaders to Pakistan for quiet talks.
On this occasion, the Taliban official told the AP, the group’s Qatar office sent Shaha-ud-din Dilawar, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Zia-ur-Rahman Madani, former governor of Logar province who is on the U.N. sanctions list for providing funding for the Taliban; Suhail Shaheen, a former diplomat and Sala Hanafi.
There was no indication who the four might meet or how long they would stay in Pakistan but it was expected their visit would be a prelude to further discussions in Qatar when Khalilzad visits later this month. AP

Putin says he won’t take Ukrainian leader’s calls

Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that he is not taking calls from the Ukrainian leader.
The long-simmering conflict between Russia and Ukraine burst into open on Nov. 25 when the Russian coast guard fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews off the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said that he tried to reach Putin on the phone while the crisis was unfolding but that Putin was ignoring his calls.
Putin on Dec. 5 confirmed that he has been refusing to take Poroshenko’s calls and blamed him for fueling the latest crisis to score political points. Putin said in comments to Russian news agencies that he is not unwilling to talk to Poroshenko but he is “unwilling to take part in his election campaign.” AP

Serbian prime minister: Armed intervention in Kosovo an option

Serbia’s prime minister has warned that the formation of a Kosovo army could trigger Serbia’s armed intervention in the former province.
In the bluntest warning so far amid rising tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Dec. 5 that she hopes “we won’t ever have to use our army, but that is currently one of the options on the table.”
Kosovo’s parliament is set to vote Dec. 14 on transforming the country’s security forces into a regular army. Serbian officials claim the army would be used to chase the Serb minority out of Kosovo — something repeatedly denied by Kosovo officials.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, which Serbia does not recognize.
An armed intervention by Serbia in Kosovo would trigger a direct clash with NATO-led peacekeepers stationed there. AP

NATO gives Bosnia green light to advance on membership path

NATO has given Bosnia-Herzegovina the green light to take a major step forward on its path toward joining the world’s biggest military alliance, despite Bosnian Serb objections to membership.
NATO foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels Dec. 5, invited the ethnically-divided Balkans country to submit its first annual program of reforms aimed at bringing it into line with the alliance’s standards.
The move is part of NATO’s Membership Action Plan, or MAP, process, which helps aspiring countries prepare for membership. It doesn’t mean that Bosnia will join anytime soon, and it’s unclear whether Sarajevo will accept the MAP invitation.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “We made our decision. We are ready to receive their annual national program. But let them decide and we are ready if they are ready.” AP

Despite Afghan deaths, slow peace moves, NATO vows to stay

Fifteen years after NATO took the lead on international security efforts in Afghanistan, the military alliance’s foreign ministers reaffirmed Dec. 5 their commitment to stay the course despite mounting Afghan casualties and the slow pace of peace moves.
At talks in Brussels, the ministers underlined their “steadfast commitment to ensuring long-term security and stability,” reaffirming that NATO’s mission in the insurgency-wracked country will last as long as conditions demand it.
It came in a week when the Marine officer nominated to command U.S. forces in the Middle East warned that the fight there is at a stalemate and the number of Afghan troop deaths in the war isn’t sustainable.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the rising violence could be a sign that things are about to change. AP