Taliban: Stance unchanged on controversial sign

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban spokesman in Qatar said Monday the militant group has not changed its stance on using its formal name and flag at a new political office in Doha, even though both have been removed from display at the building that was set up in an attempt to bring about peace talks after nearly 12 years of war.

The statement threatens to further complicate efforts to bring both sides to the table. The push for negotiations got off to a rocky start after the Taliban opened the new office last week with great fanfare on live television, hoisting the flag it used when it ruled Afghanistan and calling the bureau an office of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."

That prompted immediate outrage from President Hamid Karzai's office, who said the use of the formal name and flag made the office akin to an embassy rather than a political bureau for peace negotiations.

Both the sign and flag have since been taken down. But Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a statement that reports his office had agreed to remove them were "baseless and fabricated."

Shaheen said the Taliban's stance hadn't changed on the use of both, though he did not say whether the group planned on trying to put them back up.

Meanwhile, the main U.S. envoy trying to spearhead the talks, James Dobbins, was to have talks in Kabul on Monday with Karzai and others following meetings with Qatari officials the day before.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry used a stop in Qatar on Saturday to urge the Taliban to make good faith efforts to open talks and begin what he called the "difficult" road ahead. He also warned the Taliban may have to close their office if they don't negotiate in good faith.

Both U.S. and Taliban officials say the two sides have not directly talked with one another.