U.S.: Direct talks with Taliban to begin Thursday

June 18, 2013 at 12:21 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 18 (UPI) -- Formal negotiations with the Taliban to end insurgent attacks in Afghanistan will begin Thursday in Qatar, senior U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The talks between American and Afghan representatives and a delegation approved by Taliban leader Mohammed Omar could breath new life into hopes for a political solution to the Afghan conflict, which have been on life support for nearly three years, The Washington Post reported.

Senior administration officials, speaking from Washington and Northern Ireland on condition of anonymity, called the talks "a key milestone," but said they did not expect immediate results.

Taliban officials are expected to release a statement later Tuesday opposing "the use of Afghan soil to threaten other countries" and supporting an Afghan peace process, an official said.

Those statements are "an important first step toward reconciliation," the officials said, and fulfill a U.S. requirement for the Taliban to open an official office in Doha.

The Taliban must also agree to break ties with al-Qaida and accept Afghanistan's constitution.

While the United States will be directly involved in the talks, most of the negotiations will be between Afghan officials and the Taliban, an official said, adding the level of trust on both sides "is extremely low, as one would expect."

The makeup of the Taliban negotiating team is not yet known, USA Today reported.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai announced separately Tuesday Afghan forces have taken the lead from NATO in maintaining the country's security.

A prominent politician was killed in a bombing Tuesday in Kabul, pre-empting a formal ceremony marking the handoff, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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