May 1 (UPI) -- Discussions between U.S. and Taliban mediators started Wednesday in Qatar with the goal of creating a lasting peace and a phased withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
The talks center around four main issues -- removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, guarantees against terrorism, peace talks between the Taliban and the pro-U.S. Afghan government and a lasting cease-fire.
Wednesday's discussions in Doha are the highest level talks the two sides have had since the Trump administration made a push for negotiations last year.
One sticking point is the Taliban's refusal to recognize Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's regime, which the group views as a puppet government of the United States. The Taliban has refused to hold peace talks with Afghan officials, as the most recent planned meeting last week was called off.
The clock is ticking if Afghanistan wants to reach a final agreement before national elections in September. Ghani faces tough opposition from rivals who have already started forming an interim government.
The new peace talks come one week after the United States, China and Russia met in Moscow to discuss the Afghan peace process. The U.S. State Department said last week the Taliban could be used to fight against the Islamic State terror group.
"They take note of the Afghan Taliban's commitment to: fight ISIS and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ETIM and international terrorist groups, ensure the areas they control will not be used to threaten any other country; and call on them to prevent terrorist recruiting, training and fundraising and expel any known terrorist," the State Department said in a statement.