A senior US commander has confirmed that the United States is prepared to have direct talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, in an effort to reach a peace deal in the country.
General John Nicholson, who leads the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, said that,
"Our secretary of state, Mr [Mike] Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces".
"We hope that they realise this and that this will help to move the peace process forward," he added.
The Taliban have long sought direct talks with the Americans. Though the Afghan Taliban have not commented directly on the prospect, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Qatar, told Al Jazeera,
"This is what we wanted and were waiting for - to sit with the US directly and discuss the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan".
The New York Times reports that several senior US officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Alice Wells, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, have visited both Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent weeks.
Ms Wells, said that there was a new “energy and impulse for everyone to renew their efforts to find a negotiated settlement” and reiterated Mr Pompeo’s remarks that there was no precondition for talks in Afghanistan.
“I think Secretary Pompeo was very clear — we are prepared to facilitate, to support, to participate in — so there is nothing that precludes us from engaging with the Taliban in that fashion,” she said. “What we are not prepared to do is at the exclusion of the Afghan government — that is the critical difference.”
She went on to add the US was working “to ensure that our actions help the Taliban and the Afghan government to the same table.”
“You are going to start off — the Afghans speaking to one another, but obviously the United States and Pakistan were critical in that inner core, and then you build out.“
Though Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani did not comment on the prospectof direct Taliban-US talks, he said “Various ideas, creative ideas are floating on how to break this logjam and get started”.