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AFP
October 14, 2018

Taliban confirm meeting with US peace envoy in Qatar

National

AFP
October 14, 2018

KABUL: A Taliban delegation has met with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar to discuss ending the Afghan conflict, the militant group said Saturday, the first time either side has officially confirmed talks.

The direct negotiations -- a longstanding Taliban demand -- were held as Khalilzad seeks to coordinate efforts with regional countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to convince Afghanistan´s largest militant group to engage in talks.

The meeting with Khalilzad and other American officials took place in Doha on Friday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement sent to journalists.

Taliban and US negotiators discussed a "peaceful end to the invasion in Afghanistan", Mujahid said, referring to the US-led intervention in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.

But the group made clear that the presence of foreign forces in the country was a "big obstacle" to peace.

Both sides "agreed to continue such meetings", he added, without providing further details.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the Taliban´s statement. "The meeting is a success for (the) Taliban. They were demanding to directly meet with the US for a long time and they finally got it," said Afghan political analyst Atta Noori.

"Although they have not agreed on anything... they could bypass the Afghan government." The Taliban statement was issued as Khalilzad returned to Kabul after a regional trip that began with his first visit to Afghanistan since his appointment last month as US envoy.

On Monday, he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other senior leaders in Kabul.

On the same day, the Taliban issued a statement vowing to target government security forces in upcoming parliamentary elections, which the United States is helping to finance.

Afghan-born Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the United Nations, is known as a blunt negotiator with hawkish foreign policy views.

Fluent in Pashto and Dari, Khalilzad´s experience as a foreign policy operative in the country dates back to the 1980s, when he served as an adviser to the Reagan administration.

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