By Jonathan Landay and Mohammad Yunis Yarwar
WASHINGTON/KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. officials told Afghanistan's Taliban that Washington was open to technical talks on economic stability and discussions on combating narcotics trafficking, the U.S. State Department said on Monday following two days of talks in Qatar.
Taliban officials raised the lifting of travel and other restrictions on Taliban leaders and the return of Afghan central bank assets held abroad, the Kabul administration said.
No country has formally recognized the Taliban since the Islamist militant movement returned to power in Afghanistan in 2021 when U.S.-led foreign forces withdrew in chaos after a 20-year conflict.
The U.S. side repeated concerns about "deteriorating" human rights and called anew on the Taliban to reverse bans on girls' secondary education and womens' employment and for the release of detained Americans, the State Department said in a statement.
It also sounded positive notes about improved financial data, including lower inflation, and reduced opium poppy cultivation under a 2022 ban. The U.S. side "voiced openness to continue dialogue on counternarcotics," said the statement. The U.S. side also was ready "for a technical dialogue regarding economic stabilization issues soon."
Most Taliban leaders require U.N. permission to travel abroad, and Afghanistan's banking sector has been crippled by sanctions since the takeover by the Taliban administration, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).
"IEA reiterated that it was crucial for confidence-building" that travel bans on Taliban leaders be lifted and central bank reserves unfrozen "so that Afghans can establish an economy unreliant on foreign aid," foreign ministry spokesman Qahar Balkhi said in an English-language statement.
About $7 billion in Afghan central bank funds were frozen in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York after the Taliban took power. Half of the funds now are in a Swiss-based Afghan Fund.
A U.S.-funded audit of the Afghan central bank failed to win Washington's backing for a return of assets from the trust fund.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Mohammad Yunis Yarwar; Editing by and Grant McCool)