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First on CNN: Qatar says talks 'showed it can deliver'

By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
updated 6:00 PM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Qatar's ambassador speaks to CNN about its role Bowe Bergdahl release
  • The country thought it could be constructive as an intermediary between the U.S. and the Taliban
  • The talks took months and concluded with the Emir giving assurances to President Obama

(CNN) -- Qatar said it did not initiate efforts that led to the prisoner exchange between the United States and the Taliban that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and saw it as a humanitarian issue with its Emir involved in brokering a final deal and offering personal assurances to President Barack Obama.

Mohammed Jaham Al-Kuwari, Qatar's ambassador to the United States, told CNN in an interview on Monday that his country thought it could be constructive as a neutral intermediary and proved after a number of months that it could foster a positive outcome.

"We did not initiate this role, it came to us," Al-Kuwari said from Paraguay. "When the two sides wanted to solve a problem among them, they looked to see who could help be the party to operate in-between them. They saw we didn't have any agenda here. We saw this as a humanitarian matter."

The United States has described Qatar's role as indispensable, and Qatari officials consider their involvement as a sign the tiny Gulf nation can play an important role as a mediator in future world crises.

"This demonstrates the willingness of Qatar to undertake diplomatic initiatives to lead to legitimate outcomes in a way that doesn't compromise basic international values," al-Kuwari said. "We showed that Qatar can deliver."

The Taliban reached out to Qatar last fall, asking them to pass a message to Americans that they wanted to revive the stalled negotiations on the prisoner swap.

Bergdahl swap was only seconds long
Released Guantanamo detainees in Qatar
Emotional homecoming for Bergdahl family
Emotional homecoming for Bergdahl family

Another Qatari official said the Americans at that time wanted a proof-of-life video, which was released in December and led to detailed talks.

The Qatari official described the negotiations as "difficult." The indirect talks involved a lot of stops and starts and required "an incredible amount of patience," the official said.

"We put a lot of effort, time and energy into this," the official said. "Our team worked very hard."

A memorandum of understanding was secretly signed in early May in Washington between the United States and Qatar on the details of the trade.

"We needed to sign this MOU to make sure the process went properly and to ensure our credibility that we could execute this in the way the Americans were expecting," the Qatari official said.

A U.S. negotiating team then traveled to the Qatari capital of Doha last week to finalize the deal.

The Qataris met separately with both sides, exchanging messages and proposals, with the Emir playing a key role.

The Emir gave President Barack Obama his personal assurance that the five Taliban prisoners held at the military lockup at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would not go back to the battlefield or play a role in Taliban activities. They would be banned for at least a year from traveling and they would be closely watched by the United States and Qatar.

The final agreement was reached last Tuesday during a phone call between the Emir and Obama. On Wednesday, Doha sent a team to Guantanamo to take custody of the prisoners.

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