US, Taliban to meet in Doha

Washington, June 18 (IANS) The US will meet the Taliban in Qatari capital Doha for talks on the peace process in Afghanistan, US officials said Tuesday.

"The US will have its first formal meeting with the Taliban, and indeed the first meeting with the Taliban for several years, in a couple of days in Doha," Xinhua quoted a senior US administration official as saying via conference call.

The meeting comes at a time when the Afghan government took the lead in military operations across the country Tuesday and the Taliban opened a political office in Doha.

The officials joining the conference call said the US-Taliban meeting is expected to be followed by another one within days between the Taliban and the Afghan High Peace Council.

The council is a 70-member body set up by the government in 2010 to initiate peace talks with the Taliban.

"I think that given the level of distrust among Afghans, it's going to be a slow process to get that dialogue, that intra-Afghan dialogue moving," a US official said.

"And the United States will encourage and help facilitate that."

The officials played down expectations of the first US- Taliban meeting, defining it as one for exchanging agendas rather than engaging in any "substantive, detailed" discussion.

"We'll tell them what we want to talk about, they'll tell us what they want to talk about, and we'll both then adjourn and consult on next steps, and then have another meeting in a week or two later," another US official said.

The officials said Washington will raise the issue of the Taliban cutting ties with the Al Qaeda, urge the Taliban to "talk seriously" to the Afghan government and seek the return of Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army sergeant held prisoner by the Taliban for the past four years.

The Taliban was expected to issue statements in Doha later Tuesday to declare its opposition to the use of Afghan soil to threaten other countries and its support for an Afghan peace process, according to the US officials.

"These are two statements which we've long called for and together, they fulfil the requirements for the Taliban to open an office, a political office, in Doha for the purposes of negotiation with the Afghan government," an official said.

American and NATO troops Tuesday transferred control of 95 remaining districts to Afghan security forces, completing a transition process that started in 2011 and paving the way for a full withdrawal of coalition forces by the end of 2014.

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