U.S. says Taliban agrees to Afghanistan peace talks

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland -- Senior Obama administration officials said Tuesday that the Taliban has agreed to participate in peace talks based in Qatar, a key step forward in the effort to jump-start a political resolution of the war in Afghanistan ahead of U.S. plans to withdraw troops.
Officials said direct talks between U.S. officials and Taliban representatives could begin this week in Doha and would be followed soon after by a meeting between the Taliban and the High Peace Council, which will represent the Afghan government in the talks.

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The opening of the Qatar office has long been a goal of U.S. officials seeking to move forward a diplomatic process ahead of the planned withdrawal of U.S. forces next year. Officials expressed cautious optimism about the prospects of the negotiations, and stressed that U.S. will act as a “facilitator” in the process.

“The core of the process is not going to be U.S.-Taliban talks,” said one senior official, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter ahead of a formal announcement. “The core of it is going to be negotiation among Afghans and the level of trust on both sides is, as one would expect, extremely low.”

U.S. officials have long pushed for the opening of the office in Qatar as part of the push toward a diplomatic resolution to the war. But even as they announced the news, a bombing targeting a prominent politician in Kabul demonstrated the challenges ahead.

Tuesday’s attack preempted a ceremony marking the formal handoff of security responsibility fromNATO to Afghan National Security Forces. NATO combat forces are slated to leave by the end of 2014.

Officials made the announcement as President Obama attended a meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations.