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U.S. welcomes decision to remove former Taliban from sanctions list

By David Ariosto, CNN
  • The U.S. said it welcomes a U.N. decision to remove sanctions against 14 former Taliban leaders
  • Among the list are four members of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan
  • The Taliban insists that foreign powers leave Afghanistan before negotiations can take place

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The United States on Thursday said it welcomes a U.N. decision to remove sanctions against 14 former Taliban leaders in what is perhaps the latest signal of its willingness to reconcile with militants who break ties with al Qaeda.

"We recognize and welcome the efforts made by the High Peace Council to work towards peace, stability and reconciliation generally and its contributions to the July 15 decision," the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a written statement.

Among the list are four members of a committee called the High Peace Council of Afghanistan, a group formed last year in September by Afghan authorities.

The United Nations identified the four men as Arsalan Rahmani Daulat, Habibullah Fawzi, Sayeedur Rahman Haqani and Faqir Mohammad, though it is not clear who else is on the list.

The so-called "1267" list, which takes its name from U.N. Security Council Resolution 1267, prevents travel and freezes funds and other financial assets of Taliban affiliated members.

The U.S. said the delisting came at the request of the Afghan government and demonstrates the international community's willingness to engage with reconciled Taliban members who "abandon violence and abide by the Afghan Constitution, including its provisions on respect for the rights of all Afghans, including women."

German Ambassador to the U.N., Peter Wittig, who heads the Security Council for the month of July, said "the message is clear: engaging for peace pays off."

The Taliban, who were driven from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001, have traditionally insisted that foreign powers leave Afghanistan before negotiations can take place.

In June, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. was engaging in peace talks with the Taliban, but also cautioned of the potential for false representatives.

"Who really represents the Taliban?" Gates asked. "We don't want to end up having a conversation at some point with somebody who is basically a freelancer."

The U.N.'s sanctions committee was established in 1999 when the Taliban controlled much of the country and offered sanctuary to al Qaeda, headed by former leader Osama bin Laden.

It was Taliban's backing of bin Laden following the al-Qaeda attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, that prompted the U.S.-led campaign against Afghanistan.

Bin Laden was killed May 2 in a clandestine U.S. raid in Pakistan.

Thursday's announcement coincides with a formal handover ceremony in the western city of Herat, one of the country's largest cities, to Afghan security forces.

Herat city is the fourth area to be transferred to national control, and is among seven areas apart of the first round of transitions.

Last week, the first group of departing U.S. soldiers left Afghanistan, beginning a draw-down of 10,000 American troops scheduled to leave by year's end.

The full drawdown is expected to take place by the end of 2014, gradually transferring responsibilities to Afghan government forces.