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

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. 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. 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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