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Peace talks between US-Taliban begins in Doha

28 June, 2019

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WASHINGTON: The next round of peace talks between the United States and Taliban begins in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday amid renewed hopes for a rapid progress in ending the 18-year-old war.

Both sides are hoping to finalise a draft text, addressing key issues like withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, a nationwide ceasefire and intra-Afghan talks.

“Based on my recent visits to Afghanistan and Qatar, I believe all sides want rapid progress,” US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wrote in a tweet. He also confirmed that the next round of talks will start on June 29.

A Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told US broadcasting network, VOA, that the Afghan peace process was “progressing …steadily (and) gradually”. He hoped that the process “may gain momentum, paving the way for the Afghans to sit together and chart a roadmap for a future Islamic system and government”.

In May, US and Taliban negotiators wrapped up the sixth round of talks in Doha, but failed to finalise the draft agreement, which will now be the main item on the agenda for the seventh round.

Ambassador Khalilzad, who leads the US team in the talks, had tweeted after the sixth round that merely holding the talks was not “sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people are dying”.

His statement led to the speculation that the talks had reached a stalemate.

On Wednesday, two US soldiers were killed in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan, raising fresh doubts about the future of the peace talks, but hours after the ambush, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said at a news briefing in New Delhi that the incident “drives home the need for (the talks) to be successful”.

The top US diplomat, who made an unannounced visit to Kabul on Tuesday, said the US mission in Afghanistan was “to reduce the level of violence, to reduce the level of risk to Afghans, broadly, and the risk to American service members”.

Later, he wrote in a tweet that in Kabul he met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah Abdullah, former President Hamid Karzai and others and held “productive discussions” with them “on the Afghan Peace Process and the need for credible elections”.

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