Karzai balks at U.S. talks with Taliban

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
June 19, 2013

Karzai puts a damper on U.S.-Taliban peace talks, Islamists seize control in Syria, and Brazil’s president salutes protesters. Today is Wednesday, June 19, 151 years since the U.S. abolished slavery. Here’s the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

Muhammad Naeem (2nd R), a spokesman for the Office of the Taliban of Afghanistan, stands next to a translator speaking during the opening of the Taliban Afghanistan Political Office in Doha, June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous

One step forward, two steps back. The U.S. and the Taliban agreed to begin talks this week to start the long process of reaching peace in Afghanistan, the first meeting of its kind in years:

A senior U.S. official said the talks would start in Doha on Thursday, but President Barack Obama cautioned against expectations of quick progress, saying the peace process would not be easy or quick. U.S. officials said the process could take many years and be subject to reversals… U.S. officials say they hope the meeting will open the way for the first-ever official peace talks between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban, which has waged a 12-year campaign to oust him and foreign troops.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is signaled his displeasure with the talks by distancing himself from the meeting and suspending government negotiations with the U.S. over how many troops will remain in the country after NATO ends combat operations in December 2014. President Obama on Wednesday welcomed Karzai’s announcement that Afghan forces would soon take over peacekeeping responsibilities. Afghanistan has seen increased violence – much of it perpetrated by the Taliban – in the months leading up to NATO’s drawdown.

A member of the Ghurabaa al-sham Syrian rebel brigade sits on a sofa as he holds a weapon at Aleppo’s district of al Sakhour, June 15, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

Islamists elbow out moderates among Syria’s rebels. A Reuters special report finds that radical Islamists are crowding out other rebel factions in Syria, raising concerns in the West that arms sent to the country will end up in the wrong hands:

During a 10-day journey through rebel-held territory in Syria, Reuters journalists found that radical Islamist units are sidelining more moderate groups that do not share the Islamists’ goal of establishing a supreme religious leadership in the country. The moderates, often underfunded, fragmented and chaotic, appear no match for Islamist units, which include fighters from organizations designated “terrorist” by the United States. The Islamist ascendancy has amplified the sectarian nature of the war between Sunni Muslim rebels and the Shi’ite supporters of Assad.

In Aleppo, where Assad’s troops are fighting to regain control, Islamist brigades are handling the day-to-day tasks of governing. Though some rebel forces are nominally a part of the Syrian National Coalition, a U.S.-backed group designed to organize the opposition and help coordinate disparate factions, opposition leaders complain that the coalition is ineffective. This week, world leaders pressured Russia’s Putin over the conflict in the annual G8 summit – to no avail.

A police officer uses a baton to control demonstrators as they protest against the Confederation’s Cup and the government of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, June 17, 2013.  REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Dilma dotes on demonstrators. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, herself a former Marxist rebel, praised demonstrations sweeping the nation and said that her government must offer better public services as local officials agreed to lower bus fares:

Speaking the morning after more than 200,000 Brazilians marched in more than a half-dozen cities, Rousseff said her government remains committed to social change and is listening attentively to the many grievances expressed at the demonstrations… The demonstrations started as small protests in a few cities against an increase in bus and subway fares but quickly ballooned into a national movement after police fired rubber bullets at protesters in Sao Paulo last week in clashes that injured more than 100 people.

Though the protests were sparked by an increase in public transit prices, they have since grown to include a longer list of grievances against the government, so it is unclear whether a move to lower fares will be enough to quiet the worst demonstrations in 20 years.

Nota Bene: Our world leaders are having a ball at the G8 summit.

Standouts:

Gone too young - We mourn the passing of veteran reporter Michael Hastings, 33. (Rolling Stone)

Check out my ice - In North Korea, refrigerators are a status symbol. (Quartz)

Hoodunit - A British man has been arrested for stealing rare owls. (BBC)

Barber’s chair - West African culture can be glimpsed through its barbershops. (The New York Times)

Lil’ liligers - Daily dose of aww comes to you by way of a Russian zoo’s lion-liger cubs. (The Associated Press)

From the File:

  • Obama wants to reduce nuclear weapons by a third.
  • Turkish deputy PM’s comments could take the sting out of protests.
  • Obama defends surveillance program in visit to Berlin.
  • Europe faces an uphill battle over youth unemployment.
  • Czech foreign minister becomes cult hero for napping on the job.
No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/