Mr. Khalilzad is hoping to convince Taliban leaders that the embassy must remain open, and secure, if the group hopes to receive American financial aid and other assistance as part of a future Afghan government. The Taliban leadership has said it wants to be seen as a legitimate steward of the country, and is seeking relations with other global powers, including Russia and China, in part to receive economic support.
Two officials confirmed Mr. Khalilzadâ€™s efforts, which have not been previously reported, on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate negotiations. The State Departmentâ€™s spokesman, Ned Price, declined to comment on Wednesday, but said funding would be conditioned on whether future Afghan governments would â€œhave any semblance of durability.â€
â€œLegitimacy bestows, and essentially is the ticket, to the levels of international assistance, humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people,â€ Mr. Price said.
In other posts around the world, U.S. diplomats said they were closely watching the perilous situation in Kabul to see how the State Department will balance its longstanding commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan against protecting the Americans who remain there as military forces withdraw.
Mr. Neumann described a push-and-pull strain between the Pentagon and the State Department in similar situations, given the militaryâ€™s responsibility for carrying out evacuations and diplomatsâ€™ duty to maintain American assistance and influence even in danger zones.
â€œIf the military goes too early, it may be unnecessary, and it may cost you a lot politically,â€ Mr. Neumann said. â€œIf the diplomats wait too late, it looks like Saigon off the roof or the departure from Mogadishu after everything was already lost, and it puts the military people at risk. So thereâ€™s no guaranteed right side.â€
Another senior U.S. official expressed alarm this week at the fall of the provincial capitals across Afghanistan, and said that if other cities follow, particularly Mazar-i-Sharif, the only major northern city still under government control, the situation could disintegrate quickly. But Pentagon officials also noted that Afghan commandos are fighting hard in Lashkar Gah and Kandahar and have so far held off Taliban advances there.