Feb. 17 (UPI) -- The Taliban on Monday officially acknowledged they have reached an agreement with the United States to reduce violence in Afghanistan and said the deal would be signed by the end of February.
Deputy chief Taliban negotiator Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi made the announcement in a recorded interview published on a pro-Taliban website.
In the video, Hanafi said "both sides have agreed to sign the agreement by the end of this month," after making a "favorable environment before signing of the agreement."
The statement marked the Taliban's first public acknowledgement of the agreement in principal announced by the United States on Thursday calling for a seven-day reduction in violence in Afghanistan.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that in addition to negotiating with the Taliban, he has been consulting with allies about the proposal at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
While far short of the complete cease-fire sought by the Afghan government, such a commitment would represent a key development in the talks that are ultimately aimed at removing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, where they have been stationed since late 2001.
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief negotiator with the Taliban, said Sunday he was "cautiously optimistic" the agreement could lead to a more lasting peace in Afghanistan.
"But I am realistic enough to know that there are lots of challenges ahead," he added.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah also described the peace agreement as "finalized" Monday at a meeting of the country's Council of Ministers.
"The agreement between the Taliban and U.S. has been finalized, and the signing of the agreement is based on the reduction in violence over seven days, and then it will continue," Abdullah said. "It also an opportunity for the opposite side to show that they want peace in the country."