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US, Taliban pause peace talks in Doha for two days

Then-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad (far right), pauses for the National Anthem, during the Multi-National Force Iraq, Change of Command Ceremony. During the ceremony, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. George W Casey Jr., Commanding General, Multi-National Force Iraq, relinquishes command to Lt. Gen. David H Petraeus, Commanding General, at the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center. (Sgt. Curt Cashour/U.S. Army)

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

The U.S. envoy who is meeting with Afghan Taliban delegates says the latest round of peace talks in Qatar have been put on hold until March 2 so that both sides can conduct “internal deliberations.”

“Both sides will take the next two days for internal deliberations, with plans to regroup on Saturday,” Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted on February 28 following three days of talks with Taliban negotiators in Doha, aimed at finding a negotiated solution to Afghanistan’s 17-year war.

After the February 27 session, both sides decided to adjourn in order to hold consultations and prepare for their next session, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The Taliban statement said the latest round of talks included “extensive” discussions on how foreign troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan, and on how to guarantee the country will not be used again by outside forces to attack other countries.

Describing the talks as “solid” and “productive,” Khalilzad wrote on Twitter: “We continue to take slow, steady steps toward understanding and eventually peace.”

In the past, Khalilzad has tried to convince the Taliban to hold direct talks with representatives of Afghanistan’s government. The Taliban has rejected that proposal.

According to Mujahid, the Taliban’s newly appointed political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar did not take part in the latest round of talks in Qatar.

But Mujahid said Baradar did meet with Khalilzad and General Scott Miller, the top NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as well as with Qatari officials in Doha.

Baradar, a co-founder of the Islamist group, was released from a Pakistani jail in October.

His appointment to the post was widely seen as the sign of a new push by the Taliban to achieve political and diplomatic legitimacy.

During a previous round of talks in Doha in January, U.S. and Taliban negotiators said they reached a “basic framework” on how to take the peace process forward.

That framework agreement calls for the Taliban to prevent international terrorist groups from basing themselves in Afghanistan and for the United States to withdraw all of its military forces from Afghanistan.

But details on the timeline for a complete U.S. withdrawal have not been agreed upon.

U.S. troops are known to have been in Afghanistan since U.S. special forces were killed in the downing of a helicopter in October 2001 following Al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.

U.S. support for anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan — including air strikes on Kabul and front-line Taliban positions — led to the downfall of the Taliban government after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other terrorists blamed for orchestrating the September 11 attacks.