A U.S. diplomat met with Taliban representatives to negotiate a peaceful end to the 17-year war in Afghanistan, a Taliban statement said Saturday.
The meeting Friday in the Qatar political office between Afghan-American diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad, who heads the U.S. mission for Afghanistan’s peace, and representatives of the Taliban, was the second meeting of a top U.S. official with the Taliban in less than three months.
The Trump administration told its top diplomats in mid-July to seek direct talks with the Taliban.
Diplomats have referred to the direct contact with the Taliban as “talks before talks” that could lead to more direct negotiation between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the New York Times reported.
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The Taliban statement said six of its representatives were at the meeting, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
During the meeting, the Taliban representatives focused on the need for a “real and Afghan-inclusive solution,” the statement said. “They talked about the end of occupation and a peaceful resolution for the Afghan issue.”
Mujahid said foreign troops presence in Afghanistan remains the “greatest obstacle” to peace, but both sides have agreed to continue meetings.
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Khalilzad met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul a day after his reported meeting with Taliban leaders, to followup as he wraps up his meetings with senior ministers on a diplomatic tour. He had previously stopped in Kabul on Oct. 4 and Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
“Khalilzad’s mission is to coordinate and lead U.S. efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table,” the U.S. Department of State statement on the diplomatic tour said. “He will do so in close coordination with the Afghan government and other stakeholders, exploring how best to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict.”
The trip from Oct. 4-14 is his first visit since being named last month as a special envoy to Afghanistan, the statement added.
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U.S. officials did not confirm or deny the reported meeting with Taliban officials.
The last meeting between a top U.S. official and the Taliban occurred in late July when State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells met with Taliban officials.
Muhajid said the talks with Wells were “productive and positive.”