The U.S. will have its first formal meeting with the Taliban in more than a year over the next couple of days in Doha, which will be followed by a Taliban meeting with the Afghan High Peace Council, the White House announced Tuesday.
The news of the coming U.S.-Taliban meetings followed an announcement by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the peace process will be led by the Afghan government—and will move to Afghanistan following an undetermined number of initial rounds of talks to be held in Doha, the capital of the Gulf island nation of Qatar, near Saudi Arabia, where the Taliban has a representative office.
“We feel that a political process is an important part of how we end this war, so today is an important first step in that process, but it is by no means the end of that process,” a senior administration official told reporters in a Tuesday morning conference call with reporters.
The U.S. side of the negotiations is likely to be led by James Dobbins, the State Department’s new special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who took the job last month following the resignation of Marc Grossman. Grossman replaced Richard Holbrooke, who died in December 2010.
But the U.S. officials emphasized that the new peace talks will be primarily between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership and officials sought to manage the expectations of the international community.
“This is an Afghan initiative and this is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned,” another senior administration official said. “We need to be realistic. This is a new development, potentially a significant development, but peace is not at hand.”
U.S. officials said the progress of the talks and the announcement that the Taliban will formally open their office in Doha, which has been open informally for years, could lead to a diminution of violence in Afghanistan that could influence how quickly U.S. forces withdraw from the country ahead of the full transition to Afghan security control at the end of 2014.
The officials warned that the coming U.S.-Taliban and subsequent Afghan government–Taliban talks will be initial steps in what could be a protracted process of negotiations that might or might not ever yield a peace agreement.
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