Iran Press TV

US, Taliban begin 'most crucial' round of talks in Qatari capital Doha

Iran Press TV

Sat Aug 3, 2019 02:28PM

A fresh round of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban militant group has resumed in the Qatari capital of Doha, with officials describing it as the "most crucial" phase of negotiations to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Officials close to the discussions said a peace agreement is expected at the end of the eighth round of talks, which began on Saturday.

The US special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has held a series of meetings with Taliban leaders since last year, said Washington is pursuing a peace agreement with the militant group.

"Just got to Doha to resume talks with the Taliban. We are pursuing a peace agreement not a withdrawal agreement," Khalilzad wrote on Twitter on Friday night.

"A peace agreement that enables withdrawal. Our (US) presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based, and any withdrawal will be conditions-based," he said, adding that the Taliban are signaling they would conclude an agreement.

He said that Washington was "ready for a good agreement" with the Taliban.

Two sources privy to the talks said a bilateral US-Taliban agreement, which is expected before August 13, will cover the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for guarantees by the Taliban not to harbor terrorist groups.

About 20,000 foreign troops, mostly Americans, are based in Afghanistan.

Two Taliban spokesmen Suhail Shaheen and Zabihullah Mujahid said a 19-member Taliban negotiation team will represent them in the Doha peace talks.

"The issue of forces withdrawal has prolonged the peace talks and delayed the deal," said a senior Taliban commander based in Afghanistan on conditions of anonymity.

"There was no way we would allow permanent stay of US forces in Afghanistan after signing a peace deal with them," the unnamed source said, adding that Taliban will provide complete assurance that no foreign militant group will be allowed to use Afghan soil against the United States and its allies.

Taliban leaders have repeatedly said that a ceasefire will not take place until the United States announces a plan for foreign force withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The militant group, which now control or influence about half of Afghanistan's territory, have held several rounds of direct talks with US officials in the Qatari capital since October. Taliban negotiators have, however, refused to hold talks with the government in Kabul, claiming leaders in Kabul are US puppets.

The ongoing peace talks come nearly 18 years after the US military invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the ruling Taliban government and vowed to bring stability to the war-ravaged nation.

The administration of US President Donald Trump is currently negotiating with the group to facilitate a withdrawal of US troops, though the talks have been met with bipartisan skepticism on Capitol Hill.

The negotiations between Washington and Taliban militants have also failed to make significant progress thus far, though they did raise eyebrows earlier this year when the Pentagon reportedly asked Congress for funds to reimburse the armed group for transportation and other expenses related to attending the peace negotiations.

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