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Iran ready for prisoners swap with US ‘without preconditions’

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(Last Updated On: May 10, 2020)

Iran is ready for a full prisoner swap with the US, amid the country’s fear for the health and safety of Iranians in US jails during the Pandemic, a local news outlet reported.

“We are ready to exchange Iranian and American prisoners and we are ready to discuss this issue without with the US without any preconditions, “ Ali Rabiei, Iran’s government spokesperson said quoted by the Khabar online, an Iranian media agency.

Rabiei said that the US yet to respond to Iran’s proposal.

“We hope that as the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease threatens the lives of Iranian citizens in the US prisons, the US government eventually will prefer lives to politics… We are worried about the safety and health of Iranians in jail. . . We hold America responsible for Iranians’ safety amid the new Coronavirus outbreak,” the Iranian official said.

Rabiei added that it seems that the US has more readiness to bring the situation to an end.

In a rare act of cooperation between two longtime rivals, the US and Iran swapped prisoners in 2019 — American graduate student Xiyue Wang, detained for three years on spying charges, and imprisoned Iranian stem-cell researcher Massoud Soleimani, accused of sanction violations, AlJazeera reported.

According to the report, the exchange in December last year was facilitated by the Swiss government.

“There is no need for a third country to mediate between Iran and America for the prisoner exchange,” Rabiei has told Khabar Online.

Michael White, a US Navy veteran who has been detained in Iran since 2018, is reportedly a likely candidate to be swapped.

He was detained in Iran for allegedly insulting the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and posting private information online but he was released from prison in mid-March on medical furlough but remains in Iran.

Iran is believed to be holding at least four Americans.

Iran says U.S. authorities are holding some 20 Iranian nationals in jail.

It comes as, so far, 1,309,698 people in the United States have been infected with the COVID-19 with 78,799 deaths, while Iran witnessed 107,603 positive cases with 6,640 fatalities.

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Peace before troops withdrawal: Pakistan PM’s security advisor

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(Last Updated On: September 30, 2020)

Special advisor on national security to Pakistan’s prime minister, Moeed Yusuf said Wednesday there needs to be peace and security in Afghanistan before foreign troops withdraw from the country. 

Yusuf said Pakistan was facilitating the Afghan peace process and was optimistic about success around intra-Afghan negotiations, state radio, Radio Pakistan reported. 

According to Yusuf, peace and security in Afghanistan is imperative for the entire region.

Voicing serious concerns about security, he said Afghan soil should not be used for any provocative activities against the neighboring country.

He also said the repatriation of millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan was a serious issue and that Pakistan hoped they would return to their home country as soon as possible. 

Yusuf’s interview coincided with the High Council for National Reconciliation Chairman, Abdullah Abdullah’s visit to Islamabad where the peace process has come under scrutiny. 

Having met with high-ranking officials this week, including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, Abdullah has “broken the ice” by visiting Islamabad, thereby ushering in a new era of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Pakistan, which helped the United States to get the Taliban to the talks tables with the Afghan negotiating team, has reaffirmed its support to the peace process this week. 

However, the talks, underway in Doha, Qatar, have stalled, reportedly over two issues – religious jurisprudence and the US-Taliban deal signed in February, which the Afghan government was not party to. 

The Taliban do not recognize the Kabul administration as the legitimate government, claiming it is a puppet government for the United States. 

Under the US-Taliban deal, which was conditions-based, Washington will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by April next year. Already a drawdown has started, with troop numbers down from 13,000 in February to 8,600. 

A further reduction of troops to 4,500 is expected by November.

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Kabul, Islamabad pave way for new era in bilateral relations

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(Last Updated On: September 30, 2020)

After two days of back-to-back meetings with high-ranking Pakistani officials, Afghanistan’s peace envoy Abdullah Abdullah will wrap up his official three-day visit to Islamabad on Wednesday – taking home a clear message that the “ice has been broken” and both nations realize the need to strengthen bilateral ties. 

Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah, who had not been to Pakistan since 2008, has so far met with key officials in the country including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. 

He has still to meet with President Arif Alvi.

Discussions between Abdullah and Pakistani officials have shown a paradigm shift in relations between the neighboring countries, which have been at odds with each other for years. 

Speaking at an event at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Islamabad, Abdullah acknowledged Pakistan’s role in helping to get the Taliban to the talks tables, which are currently underway in Doha, Qatar. 

“Pakistan played a critical role in facilitating the talks, and has even a more important role to play here on not only supporting the process through a successful end, but also in standing with the people and government of Afghanistan in building a peaceful and prosperous neighborhood,” he said.

For years, the two countries have had less than favorable relations and on this point, Abdullah said: “After many troubling years, we now need to go beyond the usual stale rhetoric and shadowy conspiracy theories that have held us back.

“We then need to draw the necessary lessons about our gains and losses, threats and opportunities, especially where we could have been today if we had aimed for stronger win-win solutions, reduced tensions, promoted moderation, increased regional connectivity, trade, transit, economic integration, Business to Business and importantly People to People interactions,” he said.

Speaking earlier at the same event, Qureshi called for “recognition of the mistakes of past” and “adding a new chapter to bilateral ties”.

He reassured Abdullah that Pakistan had “no favorites in Afghanistan”, and that Islamabad did not want to “meddle in Afghanistan’s internal affairs”. He said his country respected Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

Qureshi also stated that Islamabad would support whatever consensus emerges from the intra-Afghan negotiations. 

In addition, he said a relationship between the two neighbors based on “cooperation and understanding” was the only way forward and that Pakistan would like to be “friends not masters” of Afghanistan.

On Tuesday night, Abdullah met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

Following the meeting, Abdullah said in a Twitter post he was “hopeful about prospects of strengthening our bilateral relations”. 

He said the two leaders had discussed the need for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and economic growth around “a regional peace dividend”. 

Khan, who has been invited to Kabul by President Ashraf Ghani, said at the meeting he was looking forward to his visit to Afghanistan. 

He also stated that Pakistan will continue to undertake all efforts to facilitate Afghan transit trade and deepen bilateral trade and economic ties. 

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Khalilzad heads to Doha, says world is watching talks closely

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(Last Updated On: September 30, 2020)

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad left Washington for Doha, Qatar on Tuesday to meet with intra-Afghan negotiating teams. 

The US State Department said in a statement overnight that Khalilzad will also meet with stakeholders to discuss increased regional connectivity, trade, and development following a peace settlement. 

“Ambassador Khalilzad will also meet with the negotiating teams to hear updates on their efforts to negotiate a settlement and bring an end to forty years of war,” the statement read. 

Khalilzad also tweeted early Wednesday that he was “headed back to Doha and the region to meet with partners on Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace negotiations and prospects for increased regional connectivity, trade, and development following peace.”

He said in his Twitter post “the Afghan people and international community are watching closely and expect the negotiations to make progress toward producing a roadmap for Afghanistan’s political future and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

Talks between the Afghan negotiating team and the Taliban started more than two weeks ago but details around progress have been sketchy. 

The teams have yet to reach a consensus on the framework of talks going forward. 

Critics have said however a mediator might be needed to step in as reports indicate there are two sticking points between the teams. 

Last week it emerged there was a dispute over the religious jurisprudence and recognition of the US-Taliban agreement signed in February, which is what led to the current talks and on which the negotiations are based – an agreement that the Afghan government was not a party to. 

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