Persian Gulf Rivals Competed to Host Taliban, Leaked Emails Show

“There is an article in the London Times that mentions US is backing setting up a Taliban embassy in Doha,” the diplomat, Mohamed Mahmoud al-Khaja, wrote to Jeffrey Feltman, then Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs. He used the shorthand “HH,” presumably to refer to his boss, the foreign minister, His Highness Abdullah bin Zayed. “HH says that we were under the impression that Abu Dhabi was your first choice and this is what we were informed” by the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Mr. Khaja said.

In a separate email dated Jan. 28, 2012, Ambassador Otaiba himself wrote to another American official about similar complaints from Mr. bin Zayed, using a different shorthand, “ABZ.”

“I got an angry call from ABZ saying how come we weren’t told,” Mr. Otaiba wrote. “They want to be in the middle of everything those guys,” he added, referring to the Qataris. “So let them, it will eventually come back to bite them in the _____.”

Representatives of the Emirati Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. A State Department spokesman also declined to comment, referring questions to the United Arab Emirates.

Three former American officials, however, confirmed this week that the U.A.E. had initially sought the Taliban embassy.

American officials have regularly said that Qatar agreed to host the Taliban embassy as part of a broader American-led effort to facilitate peace talks in Afghanistan, not because of any support for the Taliban or their ideology. (The opening of a Qatar office of the Palestinian militant group Hamas was also arranged with American approval.)

The former American officials, recalling the negotiations over locating the Taliban embassy, said that both the U.A.E. and Qatar wanted to enlarge their status as players in international affairs, and that neither wanted its rival to have the chance to host the peace talks.

Once the decision was made…

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