James Dobbins for SRAP

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The Obama administration has tapped veteran diplomat James Dobbins to serve as the new U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday.

Dobbins “has deep and longstanding relationships in the region and I couldn’t be more grateful that Jim has agreed to take on this assignment,” Kerry said Friday.

Dobbins, 71, who led the US team to the Bonn Conference that established the post-Taliban Afghan government and who raised the US flag on the US embassy in Kabul in December 2001, will now lead US policy to Afghanistan and Pakistan as the US withdraws its remaining combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, in what has become the longest war in US history. Afghanistan also holds presidential elections next year in which two-term President Hamid Karzai has agreed not to run.

“This is a pivotal moment for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, with interconnected political, security, and economic transitions already underway in Afghanistan, and Pakistani elections just days away, marking an important and historic democratic transition,” Kerry said Friday.

Dobbins, currently at the Rand Corporation, previously served as US envoy to Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and Somalia during the withdrawal of US forces there, as well as Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and many other posts.

After the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, Dobbins served as the Bush White House’s envoy to the Afghan opposition and represented the United States at the Bonn Conference that helped negotiate the formation of the post-Taliban Afghan government.

Dobbins did not respond to messages left by the Back Channel over the past two days on the rumored appointment. The New York Times first reported the appointment Friday.

A former Afghan government advisor told Al-Monitor he interpreted the appointment as a sign the Obama administration will push the Karzai government to negotiate with the Taliban as the US exits. Continue reading

Iran nuclear negotiator, in India, blasts US double standards

Amid preparations for a new round of nuclear talks, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator used a speech at an Indian think tank Wednesday to rail against US-led negotiations with the Taliban and what he decried as American double standards on terrorism and a “selective approach to the nuclear rights” of nations.

Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s national security council, spoke to an invitation-only crowd at a New Delhi think tank Wednesday while on a three day official visit to India before traveling to Afghanistan. But the immediate focus of Jalili's India visit, at the invitation of his counterpart Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, seemed to have more to do with shared Indian and Iranian concerns about prospective US-led negotiations with the Taliban that could give Pakistan greater sway in Afghanistan, rather than the nuclear file, Indian analysts said.

“The good news is that Iran is as uncomfortable as India on the back-room developments with regard to Afghanistan as the United States-led international community seems hell bent on 'good' Taliban taking over the land-locked country in the post-2014 scenario of withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan,” Indian analyst Rajeev Sharma wrote.

Jalili, in his speech to the Observer Research  Foundation, “completely avoided specifics and focused on themes – despite very specific questions being asked, he focused on American double standards and US exceptionalism,” an Indian foreign policy analyst who attended the talk told the Back Channel by email Thursday. Continue reading