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U.S., Soviets Plan New Afghan Talks : With Rebels’ Hopes Fading, Settlement Will Be Explored

Times Staff Writer

With prospects for a military victory by Afghan resistance groups beginning to fade, the United States announced Friday that it will conduct a new round of talks on Afghanistan with the Soviet Union to explore the chances for a political settlement there.

The talks, to begin in Stockholm on July 31, will be the first between U.S. and Soviet experts on Afghanistan since the Bush Administration took office and the Soviet Union completed its withdrawal of troops from the country early this year.

One State Department official said the United States hopes “to once again weigh in with the Soviets on how to get the (Soviet-backed regime in Kabul) out of control.”

“A political solution would be great,” this official said. “However, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (Kabul’s Communist regime) is not in on the deal. A resolution is going to have to be one without a PDPA presence.”

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State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that during the talks, the U.S. delegation also expects to talk with the Soviet Union about developments in Iran. The U.S. delegation will be headed by John Kelly, the assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs.

In the wake of the death of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini last month, Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful leader of the Iranian Parliament, visited Moscow and concluded a series of agreements upgrading economic cooperation between the two countries.

Ready to Discuss Iran

“The Soviets have indicated to us that they’d be prepared to answer questions about Iran,” one U.S. official said.

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After the Soviet Union finished pulling its troops out of Afghanistan on Feb. 15, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev sent a personal message to President Bush, urging the United States to help in bringing about a peaceful settlement of the conflict between the government in Kabul and the anti-Communist Afghan rebels.

Soviet officials also urged that the United States stop supplying arms to the rebels. But Bush turned down the Soviet overtures, saying that--because the Afghan government possessed a huge stockpile of arms left behind by the Soviet troops--it would “not be fair” for the United States to cut off supplies to the Afghan resistance.

At that time, many U.S. officials suggested that the Afghan resistance groups were in a strong position to win a military victory over the Kabul government. But over the last five months, the rebels have failed in repeated efforts to capture the strategic eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, which lies along the main road from Kabul to the border with Pakistan.

Some U.S. officials have said that the unexpectedly weak performance by the Afghan resistance groups on the battlefield is at least partly the result of a huge increase in arms shipments from the Soviet Union to the Afghan government.

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But a second factor has been the divisions among the resistance groups. On July 9, as many as 30 military leaders--including seven commanders--of one rebel group were ambushed and killed in northern Afghanistan in an attack blamed on a rival guerrilla group.

Asked Friday whether the United States is now reevaluating its policy on Afghanistan to take account of the weakening position of the resistance groups, one State Department official replied, “There’s always a reevaluation of Afghan policy.”


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