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Uzbekistan Seeks Bigger Role in Afghan Peace Process

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev (file photo)
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev (file photo)

(Reuters) TASKHENT -- Uzbekistan wants to establish a new venue for peace talks between the government of neighboring Afghanistan and the Taliban, it said Tuesday, having invited the world's top diplomats to a conference later this month.

The Tashkent government hopes the March 26-27 conference will jump-start the "Afghan-owned, Afghan-led process for national reconciliation," its foreign ministry said in a statement.

It is unclear, however, whether any Taliban representatives will be present at the meeting where Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is set to deliver a keynote speech.

The meeting will be the first such event to be hosted by Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who came to power in 2016 and has pledged to open up the resource-rich nation of 32 million to the outside world.

Tashkent has invited U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, to the conference, as well as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and her counterparts from China, Russia, the United States, Britain and many other countries.

It is, however, uncertain whether all of them will attend.

Mirziyoyev's office said last week that U.S. President Donald Trump supported the conference in a message, saying his "administration is considering the composition of the relevant delegation of the United States."

The Uzbek foreign ministry said it expected the meeting to adopt the resolution calling for "guaranteed integration of the armed opposition into the political life of Afghanistan" while condemning "all forms and manifestations of terrorism."

"Initiating the Tashkent Conference, Uzbekistan by no means intends to confine itself to arranging it as a one-off event, but to continue with vigorous efforts — both bilaterally and multilaterally — to promote a peaceful political process in Afghanistan," it said.

Mirziyoyev took over the predominantly Muslim former Soviet republic after the death of President Islam Karimov, who had run it for more than a quarter of a century.

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

Mirziyoyev has promised to liberalize the resource-rich nation and has embarked on a diplomatic campaign to bring in much-needed foreign investment.

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