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US, Taliban continue meetings in Qatar on joint agreement

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad speaks at the inauguration of the Ghazi School in Kabul. (US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/U.S. Department of State)

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

A representative of the Taliban says a second day of meetings between the group and a U.S. negotiating team led by Zalmay Khalilzad has been held in Qatar.

“Both negotiation teams also held productive talks yesterday & today. Talks will continue for several days & we shall share information about it at various intervals,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a post on Twitter on January 17.

Shaheen added that the talks had been “useful” and that the sides are discussing the signing of a joint agreement and a related ceremony. He did not elaborate.

There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials, but Reuters quoted two unnamed sources as saying the Taliban will implement a 10-day cease-fire with U.S. troops, a reduction in violence with Afghan forces, and discussions with Afghan government officials if it reaches a deal with U.S. negotiators in talks in Doha.

Analysts say that if an agreement is clinched, it could revive hopes for a long-term solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan since their 2001 invasion to drive out the Taliban following the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.

The Taliban controlled Afghanistan at the time and harbored Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed his desire to remove the estimated 13,000 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan in America’s longest war.

Over the past year, neighboring Pakistan has helped facilitate talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban in Qatar, where the militants have a political office.

But the talks have repeatedly stalled, with Washington calling on the group to reduce violence, among other things.

An Afghan presidency spokesman said a cease-fire was the only way to achieve sustainable and dignified peace.

“To achieve lasting peace, which is the demand of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the people, is the only way to achieve cease-fire,” he said in a post on Twitter.

“Any cease-fire that is proposed as a fundamental step will be acceptable to the people and the government,” he added.