US, Taliban to have direct peace talks

Washington, June 19 (IANS) The US has decided to hold direct peace talks with the Taliban, senior White House officials have announced. The first meet is due to take place in the coming days in Qatar's capital, where the Taliban have opened their first official overseas office, BBC reported.

US officials told reporters the first formal meeting between the US and Taliban representatives was expected to take place in Doha next week, with talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai's High Peace Council and the Taliban due a few days after that.

The announcement came on the day NATO handed over security for the whole of Afghanistan to government forces.

Karzai said his government was also sending delegates to Qatar for talks with the Taliban.

Though the first weeks will mainly be used to explore each other's agendas, the US officials said, prisoner exchanges would be one topic for discussion with the Taliban.

The talks are on condition that the Taliban renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaeda and respect the Afghan constitution - including the rights of women and minorities.

The Taliban in the past have declined to meet President Karzai or his government while dismissing them as Washington's puppets.

US officials, however, stressed that this was the first step on a very long road, adding that there was no guarantee of success.