US open to talks on frozen Afghan funds – Reuters

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Washington is prepared to release billions to avert a humanitarian disaster, sources said

The US administration will move ahead with negotiations to release billions in Afghan funds, which were frozen by Washington and other governments following the Taliban takeover last August, Reuters reported on Monday, citing its sources.

The talks are meant to help stabilize the crumbling Afghan economy, as the United Nations warns that the nation may face “acute hunger” this winter.

They will go ahead despite Washington’s concerns that Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri – who helped plan the 9/11 attacks – was staying in Kabul before he was killed in a US drone strike earlier this month.

Washington reportedly aims to wire billions of assets belonging to the Afghan central bank into a Swiss fund, Reuters said. Disbursements would be made with the help of an international board bypassing the Taliban, many of whose officials have been slapped with US and UN sanctions.

According to Reuters’ sources, US officials have said they intend to pursue talks with the militant organization at an August briefing, although they were frustrated with the speed of the talks. One US official blamed the slow pace on the failure of the Taliban and Afghan central bank to move quickly.

One of the sticking points is the Taliban’s reported opposition to several international demands, including the removal of two sanctioned militants from posts at the central bank — and a reluctance to formally agree to install independent anti-money laundering monitors. However, according to Reuters, Taliban officials have consented to the latter provision in principle.

When the Western-backed Afghan government collapsed last year, the country had more than $9 billion deposited in foreign banks, which was frozen following the Taliban takeover.

Earlier reporting suggested that the Biden administration did not plan to release Afghan assets over concerns that the money would be used to fund terrorism. 

Needless to say, the Taliban’s sheltering of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups,” Thomas West, the US State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan, told the Wall Street Journal last week.

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