U.S. to hold Afghan peace talks with Taliban in Doha

WASHINGTON Tue Jun 18, 2013 10:29pm IST

Afghan defence officers attend a security handover ceremony at a military academy outside Kabul June 18, 2013. Afghanistan will send a team to Qatar for peace talks with the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday, as the U.S.-led NATO coalition launched the final phase of the 12-year war with the last round of security transfers to Afghan forces. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Afghan defence officers attend a security handover ceremony at a military academy outside Kabul June 18, 2013. Afghanistan will send a team to Qatar for peace talks with the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday, as the U.S.-led NATO coalition launched the final phase of the 12-year war with the last round of security transfers to Afghan forces.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Th=e United States will meet the Taliban in Doha for talks aimed at achieving peace in Afghanistan, where the United States has battled the insurgents for 12 years, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned that the process would likely be lengthy.

They said the Taliban would issue a statement on Tuesday opposing the use of Afghan soil for attacks on other countries and that they support an Afghan peace process.

The United States will insist the Taliban break ties with al Qaeda, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution, including protection for women and minorities, the officials told reporters in a conference call.

"This is but the first step in what will be a long road," one U.S. official said.

The first formal meeting involving U.S. and Taliban representatives is scheduled to be "in a couple of days" in Doha, the U.S. officials said. Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are expected to take place a few days after that, they said.

U.S. officials said the level of trust between the Afghan government and the Taliban was low, and played down expectations that the talks would quickly lead to peace. The talks were likely to be subject to reversals and could take many years, one official said.

"Peace is not at hand," the official said.

U.S. officials said the goal was to ensure that Afghanistan does not remain a haven for terrorism and to defeat al Qaeda.

The talks will be conducted on the Taliban side by its political commission, with the authorization of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, a U.S. official said. The commission would also represent the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, which is considered the United States' deadliest foe in Afghanistan.

Officials said they expect detainee exchanges to be on the agenda. The United States will ask for the safe return of U.S. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who has been a prisoner since June 2009, the officials said. He is thought to be being held by Taliban militants in northwestern Pakistan.

The first U.S.-Taliban meeting is expected to be an exchange of agenda, followed by another meeting a week or two later to discuss next steps, the U.S. officials said.

The planned talks follow discussions between President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in January, officials added.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; editing by Jackie Frank)

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