Talks aimed at ending the Afghan conflict were held Monday in the United Arab Emirates, the Pakistan government said, with US and Taliban representatives believed to be in attendance.
Washington confirmed meetings were ongoing in Abu Dhabi “to promote an intra-Afghan dialogue toward ending the conflict”, and that its envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in the region.
Khalilzad “has in the past met, and will continue to meet with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict,” it continued.
It did not confirm that Khalilzad or any other US officials had met with the Taliban on Monday, and the tweet by the Pakistani foreign ministry said only that talks were being held, without specifying who attended them.
However in a statement late Sunday the Taliban announced “another meeting” between the militants and the US would be held in the UAE on Monday.
They issued another statement Monday repeating their long-standing refusal to meet with representatives of the government in Kabul and insisting they will only speak with US officials.
Khalilzad has made several trips to the region since his appointment in September. On this trip the State Department said he is also visiting Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Qatar, and Belgium, where he tweeted that he had met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The meetings are the latest in a flurry of diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing the Taliban to the table for negotiations with the Afghan government on ending the conflict which began with the US invasion in 2001.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced in late November the establishment of a 12-person negotiating team to talk peace with the Taliban.
The militants have consistently refused to meet with the Kabul government, however, and civilians continue to pay a disproportionate price in Afghanistan as attacks continue.
The international community remains optimistic.
“The possibility of a negotiated end to the conflict has never been more real in the past 17 years than it is now,” the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, told the UN Security Council in New York on Monday.