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Washington's Afghan envoy to reopen Kabul embassy

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has been closed since 1989.  

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With a new Afghan government set to take power, the State Department's current representative to Afghan opposition groups will soon reopen the long-vacant U.S. Embassy in Kabul, U.S. officials told CNN on Tuesday.

James Dobbins, who worked in coordination with U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in establishing a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan, will travel to Kabul in the coming week, senior State Department officials tell CNN.

The officials said Dobbins will help run what is being called a "liaison office" between the United States and the interim government, which is scheduled to take office December 22.

Deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Tuesday that a State Department assessment team of about 10 people has been in Kabul surveying the structural condition of the embassy compound in preparation for a U.S. diplomatic presence in the country.

"There are issues about infrastructure that need to be dealt with, in terms of electricity and running water, to be able to support a diplomatic presence there," Reeker said. "But I think as Ambassador Dobbins made clear to you last week and the secretary has certainly stated on numerous occasions, we do expect to establish a full-time diplomatic presence there soon."

Dobbins will continue his work with the various Afghan ethnic and tribal groups, but the decision on whether Washington will establish full diplomatic relations with Afghanistan will depend on how the interim government is run and what develops in the country.

The last U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan left in 1989, as Soviet forces withdrew. Afghan staff have looked after the compound in the last 12 years, but Reeker said the embassy "has sustained a lot of damage."

Parts of the embassy were damaged in a September protest by Taliban supporters, who burned buildings and vehicles in the embassy compound and ripped the U.S. seal from the building.

A detachment of Marines moved into the embassy compound Monday, setting up security for the assessment team and inspecting the grounds for unexploded ordnance. They found none.


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