DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Afghanistan’s warring parties began negotiations on Saturday for the first time, bringing together delegates appointed by the Afghan government and the Taliban for a historic attempt to end decades of war.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the opening ceremony in Qatar, where meetings are held and where the Taliban has an office for political affairs.
It is the most recent diplomatic activity by the US government before the presidential elections in November.
“Each of you has a great responsibility,” Pompeo told the participants. « They have the opportunity to overcome their divisions, » he added.
After the opening on Saturday, which was basically a ceremony, tough negotiations will take place behind closed doors over several sessions. Following a meeting with the Taliban on Saturday in Doha, Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the United States and all Afghans would like to see a deal « sooner rather than later. »
Negotiations are important in the search for a lasting peace that will also provide an outlet for US and NATO troops after nearly 19 years.
The parties will try to address difficult issues. This includes the terms of a permanent ceasefire, the rights of women and minorities, and the disarmament of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and militias loyal to the warlords, some of them aligned with the government.
Khalilzad said a rapid and permanent ceasefire is unlikely, but held out hope for a gradual reduction in violence until both sides are ready to end their fighting. Distrust runs deep on both sides, he said.
The talks in Doha follow the recognition of Israel by the United States by two Gulf nations – Bahrain on Friday and the United Arab Emirates earlier this month.
The Afghan parties are also expected to discuss constitutional changes and the sharing of power.
Gannon reported from Islamabad. Associated Press journalist Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.