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Uzbekistan Offers To Host Talks Between Afghan Government And Taliban

Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoev (R) shaking hands with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Tashkent on March 27.

Uzbekistan has offered to host peace negotiations between Afghanistan's government and the Taliban.

President Shavkat Mirziyoev made the offer on March 27, during a high-level meeting in the capital, Tashkent, that aims to lay the groundwork for direct talks between the Afghan government and the militants.

The Central Asian nation of 32 million people is seeking to raise its international profile as part of Mirziyoev's campaign to open up Uzbekistan and attract foreign investment after decades of isolation and economic stagnation.

"We stand ready to create all necessary conditions, at any stage of the peace process, to arrange on the territory of Uzbekistan direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement," Mirziyoev said at the conference, which was attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and senior diplomats from several countries. There were no Taliban representatives.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and a number of foreign ministers, including Sergei Lavrov of Russia, Wang Yi of China, and Turkey's Mevlut Cavusoglu, attended the Tashkent conference. The United States was represented by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon.

The parties at the conference were expected to sign a declaration on Afghanistan before the end of the conference.

Representatives of both Washington and NATO have accused Russia of supplying military aid to Taliban, which ruled over much of Afghanistan from 1996 until it was toppled following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, after the September 11 attacks.

Moscow has rejected the claims.

Mirziyoev took over predominantly Muslim Uzbekistan after the death in 2016 of authoritarian President Islam Karimov, who had ruled with an iron fist since the Soviet era.

Tashkent's ties with the West were strained under Karimov who was often criticized over his government's human rights abuses.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and TASS