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Latest round of talks with US critical, say Taliban

July 01, 2019 00:00:00

ISLAMABAD, June 30 (AP): A Taliban spokesman says the seventh and latest round of peace talks with the US is "critical," as the militant group meets with Washington's envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in the Mideastern state of Qatar, where it maintains a political office.

Suhail Shaheen told The Associated Press Sunday that both sides are looking for "tangible results" as they try to hammer out the fine print of agreements that will see the eventual withdrawal of over 20,000 US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, and end America's longest-running war.

The agreements are also expected to provide guarantees that Afghanistan will not again harbor terrorists to carry out attacks worldwide.

The talks began on Saturday and are expected to continue into the next week. The US wants a final deal by Sept 01.

Meanwhile, a fresh round of talks between the US and the Taliban began in Qatar on Saturday, just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is hoping for an Afghan peace agreement before Sept. 1.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to The Associated Press that negotiations had begun. Originally scheduled to begin in the morning, the two sides sat down mid-afternoon for the seventh time in a series of direct talks that began last year following the appointment of US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

As in previous talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban, the focus will be on the withdrawal of US troops and Taliban guarantees to prevent Afghanistan from again hosting militants who can stage global attacks.

Both sides say they have come to an understanding on the withdrawal and the guarantees but the details have yet to be worked out.

Both Khalilzad and Pompeo have said that agreements with the Taliban will come hand in hand with agreements on an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent cease fire.

Until now, the Taliban have refused to meet directly with President Ashraf Ghani's government but have held several rounds of talks with a collection of Afghan personalities from Kabul, including former President Hamid Karzai, several prominent opposition leaders and government peace council members.

Both those meetings were held in Moscow earlier this year. The Taliban say they will meet with government officials but as ordinary Afghans and not representatives of the government __ at least not until an agreement with the US is finalised, saying the US is the final arbiter on the Taliban's biggest issue of troop withdrawal.

The Taliban have also refused a cease-fire. Taliban officials who have spoken to the AP on condition they not be identified because they are not authorised to speak to the media, say they won't agree to a cease-fire until troop withdrawal is in place because returning Taliban to the battlefield with the same momentum of today if the US reneges on its promises could be difficult.

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