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Pompeo hails ‘significant progress’ in US-Taliban talks on Afghanistan

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo delivers remarks at the NPT Depositary Conference on the 50th Anniversary of the Opening for Signature of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, at the Department of State. (State Department/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed what he called “significant progress” made by the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan after six days of talks with the Taliban in Qatar aimed ending the 17-year conflict.

“Encouraging news from [U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad],” Pompeo wrote on January 26 on Twitter.

“He reports significant progress in talks with the Taliban on Afghanistan reconciliation.”

Pompeo also wrote that the United States is “serious about pursuing peace, preventing Afghanistan from continue to be a space for international terrorism & bringing home forces.”

Washington is working with the Afghan government and “all interested parties,” he added, and seeks to “strengthen Afghan sovereignty, independence & prosperity.”

Pompeo’s optimistic remarks come after Khalilzad, the veteran U.S. diplomat, said progress had been made in six days of discussions with the Taliban in Qatar.

He cautioned on Twitter that no deal had been finalized with the militants, but he said further talks would resume shortly.

He also said that he was flying back to Afghanistan to discuss the talks.

“Meetings here were more productive than they have been in the past. We have made significant progress on vital issues,” Khalilzad said in a tweet.

“We have a number of issues left to work out,” he said, while adding that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and ‘everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that while there was “progress” at the meetings, reports of an agreement on a cease-fire and talks with Kabul “are not true.”

“Since issues are of critical nature and need comprehensive discussions, therefore it was decided that talks about unresolved matters will resume in similar future meetings,” Mujahid said in a statement released on January 26.

The statement added that until the withdrawal of international troops was hammered out, “progress in other issues is impossible.”

Earlier, unnamed Taliban sources quoted by Reuters had said the hardline Islamic group had offered assurances that Afghanistan will not be allowed to be used by Al-Qaeda and the extremist group Islamic State (IS) to attack the United States and its allies.

“In 18 months, if the foreign forces are withdrawn and cease-fire is implemented then other aspects of the peace process can be put into action,” a Taliban source told Reuters, quoting from the draft.

More talks on the draft are expected in February, again in the Qatari capital Doha, Reuters reported quoting Taliban sources.

The Taliban has so far refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government officials.

The Kabul government has struggled to fend off a resurgent Taliban, as well as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda militants, nearly two decades after a U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001.