The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan on Tuesday condemned rumors that the United States is planning to divide the war-torn country, saying the suggestions were "lies that dishonor the sacrifice of more than 1,800 American service members who have died in the cause of a unified Afghanistan."
Ambassador Ryan Crocker said in a statement that a "free and independent media plays a vital role in any democracy" and that Afghanistan's media and the Afghan government spokespersons were "important elements in our close bilateral relationship."
But he then went on to say that, "rumors that the United States has a plan to divide Afghanistan or change its form of government are, frankly speaking, lies that dishonor the sacrifice of more than 1,800 American service members who have died in the cause of a unified Afghanistan, governed by its Constitution."
And he added that the idea "that the United States is seeking a secret deal with the Taliban at the expense of the Afghan government and people" was "another false and absurd rumor."
'Democratic and unified'
Crocker stressed that the United States was "committed to supporting the efforts of the central government, to build a strong, secure, democratic, and unified Afghanistan."
"We have no other aim or goal," he added, pointing out that American taxpayers had provided billions of dollars over the past decade to support "the government and people of Afghanistan."
Crocker appeared to be addressing reports in the Afghan media, although The New York Times also reported Thursday last week that Afghan officials were worried about the possibility the Taliban might make a "secret deal" with the United States.
"Afghanistan and the United States both support a peace process for Afghanistan. But only Afghans can decide the future of Afghanistan," he added, according to the statement. "For a peace process to succeed, Afghans must talk to Afghans."
He noted that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had spoken in support of the idea of the Taliban opening an office in Qatar, seen as key for peace talks to go ahead.
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But Crocker said "nothing has been concluded on the opening of an office" and that the Afghan Taliban had to give a "clear statement ... against international terrorism and in support of a peace process to end the armed conflict in Afghanistan" before it could open.
"And for reconciliation to take place, we are in full agreement with the Government of Afghanistan that three conditions must be met by the Taliban and other armed insurgents: a complete break with al-Qaida; an end to violence; and respect for the Afghan constitution, including its protections for women and minorities," he added, according to the statement.