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Qatar minister optimistic on Kabul airport reopening following US talks

Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says his country hopes Afghan capital's airport will be operational in the next few days
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani at a joint press conference in Doha on 7 September 2021 (Olivier Douliery/AFP)

Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said on Tuesday that his country hopes Kabul airport will be up and running for passengers in the next few days.

Speaking at a press conference in Doha alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Qatari minister added that an agreement on how to run the Afghan capital’s airport had not yet been reached and that he believes the airport will require an upgrade in equipment. 

Qatar has been working with Turkey and the United States on restoring operations at Kabul airport, which has been largely closed following the re-taking of power in Afghanistan by the Taliban in August. 

Blinken told the press conference in Doha that the US had been conducting diplomacy with the militant group, and that Taliban officials had told Washington they would let people with travel documents freely depart Afghanistan. “We will hold them to that,” Blinken said of this assurance.

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The US secretary of state said his country was working to ensure charter flights carrying American citizens and at-risk Afghans could leave the country safely.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is with Blinken in Qatar, as Washington looks to arrange these evacuations and build a consensus among allies on how to respond to the Taliban. 

US President Joe Biden is under pressure, following reports that several hundred people, some of them American, had been prevented for a week from flying out of an airport in northern Afghanistan. 

Qatar was the transit point for nearly half of the more than 120,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan in the last days of the 20-year US war there. At a dinner in the Gulf country on Monday night, Biden’s senior cabinet members expressed Washington’s thanks to Doha and hailed its “extraordinary support”.  

While Doha is the Taliban’s international diplomatic base, Blinken’s aides said he had no plans to meet them, as Washington waits to determine what level of engagement it should have with the militant group. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that as well as working with Qatar and the United States, Turkey was in talks with the Taliban regarding the operation of Kabul airport. 

Cavusoglu says security is the main issue at the airport. He told the broadcaster NTV that 19 Turkish technicians are in Kabul, holding talks with the Qataris about the airport.

Turkey has told the Taliban that it would not take part in the airport mission unless its units were involved in security.