Afghanistan’s Taliban and US officials hold talks in UAE

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KABUL (TCA) — The Afghan Taliban says its representatives have met with U.S. officials in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as efforts intensify to negotiate an end to Afghanistan’s 17-year war, RFE/RL reported.

The preliminary talks on December 17 were seen as an important step to launch formal peace negotiations with the Taliban.

While Washington has neither denied nor confirmed previous meetings with the Taliban, U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has previously held at least two rounds of talks with Taliban officials.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid offered few details of the latest meeting except to say that “discussions were held with the American side over the end to the invasion of Afghanistan.”

Mujahid said the talks also involved the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan — three countries that have significant influence over the Taliban.

Taliban representatives would not meet with Afghan government representatives who are in the UAE, the spokesman also said.

The Taliban has long refused to hold formal talks with the Afghan government, insisting on first brokering an agreement with the United States.

Mujahid said the meetings in the UAE would continue, indicating they could last for several days.

In a statement last month, the Taliban said it held three consecutive days of talks with Khalilzad in Qatar, where the militant group maintains an informal political office.

Khalilzad has said he would like to see a “road map” agreement reached before the Afghan presidential election scheduled for next April.

The decision to move the venue of the talks from Qatar to the UAE was seen as an effort to involve Saudi Arabia, which is hostile to Qatar, more closely in the process and to exert influence on its ally, Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Pakistan were the only three countries to recognize the Taliban government during its five-year rule, which ended with the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Sergey Kwan

TCA