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US, Taliban officials to meet in wake of deadly earthquake

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KABUL: Taliban-led government’s foreign minister and finance and central bank officials arrived in Qatar on Wednesday to meet with U.S. special representative and Treasury department official, in the wake of last week´s deadly earthquake.

Last week´s devastating earthquake in southeastern Afghanistan killed more than 1,150, with thousands injured. The U.N. says 155 children are among those killed in what was the deadliest earthquake to hit the country in two decades.

The expected meeting was announced by Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman Hafiz Zia Ahmad, who said the delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Maulvi Amir Khan Muttaqi. He said the officials will meet in Doha, Qatar with the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and officials from the U.S. Treasury Department to discuss Afghanistan´s economic and banking sectors.

The meeting comes as the Taliban asked the US government to release billions of dollars in frozen Afghanistan assets to help with the relief efforts in quake-hit areas, as the country is reeling from acute economic woes.

The Washington Post first reported Tuesday that senior Biden administration officials are working with Taliban leadership on a mechanism to allow Afghanistan´s government to use its central bank reserves to deal with the country’s severe hunger and poverty crises while erecting safeguards to ensure the funds are not misused.

The Biden administration froze some $9 billion in foreign Afghan central reserves after the Taliban seized power last August, prompting a chaotic and deadly withdrawal of U.S. and NATO allied forces, as well as more than 100,00 Afghans and others.

Aid agencies said the earthquake underscored the need for the international community to rethink its financial cut-off of Afghanistan since Taliban insurgents seized the country. That policy, halting billions in development aid and freezing vital foreign reserves, has helped push the economy into collapse and plunge Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near famine.

Authorities and charities are struggling to access the far-flung region where the quake struck, and appear overwhelmed by the scale of the damage and the daunting task of debris removal, let alone reconstruction.

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