The Taliban have long demanded that they meet with Americans directly instead of the Afghan government, which has made Afghan leaders wary of being sidelined.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Seeking to inject new energy into the long-stalled Afghan peace process, the top U.S. diplomat charged with helping find a way to end the war has met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, according to officials and a Taliban statement Saturday.
The meeting Friday between the U.S. diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban was the second that senior U.S. officials have had with Taliban representatives in Qatar since the Trump administration ordered direct talks this summer in the hopes of jump-starting the peace process. Khalilzad flew to Kabul on Saturday to meet with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani.
The Taliban have long demanded that they meet with Americans directly instead of the Afghan government, which has made Afghan leaders wary of being sidelined. Western diplomats have described the Americans’ direct contact with the Taliban as “talks before talks” that could grow into negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
The Taliban, in a statement issued through spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, said six of their representatives met with Khalilzad.
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“They talked about the end of occupation and a peaceful resolution for the Afghan issue,” the Taliban said. “Both sides agreed to continue their meetings in the future.”
Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and to the United Nations and who was born in Afghanistan, is on his first trip to the region since being appointed by the State Department last month as special representative for Afghan reconciliation.
“The United States shares the aspirations of all Afghans for a peaceful Afghanistan where all Afghans see themselves included,” Khalilzad said in a statement, which did not acknowledge the meeting. He did not respond to requests for further comment.
The Taliban have long stipulated that an agreement to withdraw remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan is essential to negotiating an end to the war.
A Taliban source, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity, said the meeting was exploratory and the discussion had included the removal of Taliban leaders from sanctions lists. A senior official aware of the discussions said the Taliban also said the presence of foreign troops in the country would forestall any deal.
Despite a sense of urgency by the United States, prompted by President Donald Trump’s frustration with the lack of progress in the war, several Afghan officials expressed caution, that the conflict was too complicated to yield quick breakthroughs. On Saturday, Ghani’s office said that it had discussed Khalilzad’s trips to various countries, but it did not mention a meeting with the Taliban.
The meeting in Doha comes days after the Taliban called on Afghans to boycott parliamentary elections this week. The insurgent group also said its fighters would do everything possible to stall the voting, already delayed three years.
Despite security risks and political chaos, as the government and the opposition have bitterly fought over concerns of fraud, about 2,500 candidates across the country have continued to campaign. At least seven candidates have been killed.
On Saturday, a motorcycle bomber struck a rally for Nazifa Yousufi Bek, a candidate in the northern province of Takhar. At least 14 people were killed and 35 others wounded.
Before meeting the Taliban representatives Friday, a session first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Khalilzad stopped in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he reportedly met with the embattled Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Afghan officials have long appealed to Saudi Arabia to use its clout to try to persuade the Taliban to enter into talks. Saudi Arabia has shown more interest in playing a role after Trump administration officials echoed the Afghan government’s call.