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September 17, 2019

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Taliban visits Moscow days after Trump says talks ‘dead’

Red Square Russia

Pavel Golovkin / AP

In this June 30, 2018, file photo, Kremlin guards perform in Red Square with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background in Moscow, Russia.

MOSCOW — A negotiating team from the Taliban arrived Friday in Russia, a representative said, just days after U.S. President Donald Trump declared dead a deal with the insurgent group in Afghanistan.

Russian state news agency Tass cited the Taliban's Qatar-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as saying the delegation had held consultations with Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin's envoy for Afghanistan.

The visit also was confirmed to The Associated Press by a Taliban official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

It was the Taliban's first international visit following the collapse of talks with Washington. The team was being led by Mullah Sher Mohammad Stanikzai.

In a weekend tweet, Trump had called off negotiations and canceled a meeting he said he wanted to have with Afghan government leaders and the Taliban at the Camp David presidential retreat.

Moscow has been accused of aiding the Taliban as a safeguard against a burgeoning Islamic State affiliate that has close ties to the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, a militant group in Central Asia. Russia has stepped up its defenses in Central Asia and has claimed thousands of IS fighters were in northern Afghanistan

Moscow has twice this year hosted meetings between the Taliban and prominent Afghan personalities.

Shaheen told the Taliban's official site on Tuesday that the group was still communicating with U.S. negotiators, at least to find out what to do next.

Washington's peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has focused his efforts on regional players almost as much as on the Taliban and Afghan government interlocutors. Earlier this year, the U.S. released a statement signed by the U.S., China and Russia supporting Khalilzad's peace efforts that called not just for an agreement on U.S. and NATO troop withdrawal and Taliban anti-terrorism guarantees but also a promise for intra-Afghan talks in which Afghans would decide the fate of their country as well as the terms of a cease-fire.

Gannon reported from Islamabad, Pakistan.