By Ayaz Gul, VOA
ISLAMABAD - Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has hosted leaders of Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency and discussed efforts aimed at finding a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war. A Taliban spokesman said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the political deputy chief and head of the insurgent group's Qatar-based office, led the visiting delegation at the meeting.
This is the second time Taliban officials have traveled to Tehran since their
yearlong peace negotiations with the United States collapsed in early September.
The latest visit also comes a week after the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) alleged that Iran continues to provide the insurgent group with military support in a bid to counter Washington's influence in Afghanistan.
Iranian official media reported Wednesday that in his discussions with Taliban visitors, Zarif underscored the need to launch an intra-Afghan peace dialogue for "the formation of an all-inclusive government" in the war-shattered neighboring country.
The top Iranian diplomat is said to have voiced Tehran's readiness to take part in efforts aimed at facilitating such a peace process that would be participated by the Taliban and government officials as well as representatives from other influential political forces in Afghanistan.
Iran's Press TV reported that Zarif conveyed to the Taliban his country's support for "any effort by various Afghan forces to find common ground for cooperation towards paving the way for the departure of all foreign forces from Afghanistan" as an outcome of intra-Afghan reconciliation talks.
'Iranian military support'
The Pentagon released the DIA report on Iran's military power earlier this month, alleging the Shi'ite nation has provided weapons, training, and funding to the Taliban in a bid to counter U.S. and Western influence in Afghanistan.
It went on to stress Tehran's "calibrated support" is also meant to combat Islamic State's affiliates in the country and increase Tehran's influence in any future government in Kabul that emerges as a result of a political reconciliation among Afghan warring sides.
The Afghan Taliban are "less receptive" to Iranian guidance but still it helps further Iranian regional objectives because they combat common enemies, the report noted.
"Tehran does not seek to return the Taliban to power but aims to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in the event that the Taliban gains a role in a future Afghan government," it said.
Iran engages both the insurgents and the Afghan government as part of its "dual-track strategy" to achieve its "broader security goals" in the country, the DIA report said.
The Taliban denies allegations it receives military support from Iran or Pakistan, which also shares a long border with Afghanistan. The insurgent group maintains the "propaganda" is an attempt to defame the Taliban and its "jihad" against U.S.-led "foreign occupation" forces in the country.
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