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Saudi says Afghan mediation depends on peace desire
RIYADH Oct 21 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia confirmed on Tuesday it had hosted a meeting between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents but said any future mediation would depend on the Afghans showing a desire for peace.
Taliban and Afghan officials attended an iftar, or breaking of the fast during the holy month of Ramadan, in the holy city of Mecca last month in the presence of King Abdullah.
Both Afghan parties have denied the meeting amounted to reconciliation talks, but Riyadh-based diplomats and Saudi analysts say Riyadh is hoping to break the Taliban's link to al Qaeda for fear of Pakistan's future. "The kingdom's effort was the result of an official request by President Hamid Karzai," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference.
"We can only try because we are concerned about security and peace in that country ... but it's up to the Afghans themselves," he said.
"If we feel there is a desire on their part to solve the problems politically and end violence ... then that's what we hope for and there will be an attempt (at mediation) in that framework. But if we don't feel there is a response then it would be difficult to find a way to intervene."
Analysts say Saudi Arabia is worried that Islamist forces including the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies are succeeding in destabilising neighbouring Pakistan, a crucial U.S. and Saudi ally where the Islamist militant groups are also present.
Prince Saud was speaking after talks with the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, which he said covered deteriorating security in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries to recognise Afghanistan's Taliban government before it was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks which were carried out by the Taliban's al Qaeda allies.
It is also a traditional ally of Pakistan but has seen its preferred political leaders sidelined, while militants allied to the Taliban and al Qaeda have gained strength in the unruly border region with Afghanistan. (Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Sami Aboudi)
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