Afghan Taliban ‘send delegation to Iran’

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Taliban leaders said Monday they had sent a delegation to Iran, Afghanistan’s western neighbor, to hold meetings that could signal a future role for Tehran in the search for peace.

However, the Iranian foreign ministry was unable to confirm such a visit had taken place.

After 12 years of violence in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power, pressure is growing for regional powers such as Iran, Pakistan and India to support a peace deal before 100,000 U.S.-led foreign troops withdraw next year.

“Some while ago a delegation headed by the Islamic Emirate’s political office chief had a three-day visit to Iran’s capital, Tehran,” the Taliban said in an emailed statement using the group’s formal title.

“The visit was to discuss mutual interests of both sides after which the delegation returned back.”

No further details were given about who the Taliban met in Tehran or the exact dates or purpose of the visit, which was the first reported trip by insurgent representatives to Iran.

A separate Taliban group also made another visit to Iran to attend a conference, the statement said.

However, Iran on Monday was unable to confirm the visits had taken place.

“I do not confirm such reports,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi in Tehran was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying when asked about Taliban visits.

Iran, which has strong trade ties with western Afghanistan, has been affected by unrest in Afghanistan, with hundreds of thousands of refugees crossing the border to escape the war.

Efforts to start peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have failed. The insurgents refuse to talk to President Hamid Karzai, describing him as a puppet of the United States.

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