US to Hold First In-Person Talks with Taliban Since Withdrawal From Afghanistan

Senior U.S. officials will hold in-person talks beginning Saturday with representatives of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban for the first time since the U.S. withdrawal from the country.

U.S. State Department officials said the U.S. delegation will meet Saturday and Sunday in Doha, Qatar, with senior Taliban representatives.

Reuters news agency, which first reported the talks, said the U.S. delegation will include officials from the State Department, USAID and the U.S. intelligence community.

A senior Taliban official based in the group’s political office confirmed their leaders are set to meet with a U.S. delegation Saturday and Sunday.

Earlier Friday, the Taliban announced that Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, along with several top officials, left Kabul for Doha.

“The delegation will hold discussions with Qatari officials as well as representatives of other countries about current political situation and relations,” tweeted Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi.He did not name any country and said the Taliban intelligence chief is also part of the delegation.

This will be the first face-to-face meeting at a senior level since the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in late August and the Islamist Taliban took over the country.

The high-level U.S. team will press the Taliban to ensure continued safe passage out of Afghanistan for U.S. citizens as well as Afghan allies from the nearly 20-year military conflict, according to Reuters.

The U.S. delegation will also reportedly hold the Taliban accountable to their commitment that they will not allow Afghan soil to become a sanctuary for al-Qaida or other terrorists and improve access for relief aid as Afghanistan faces a growing humanitarian crisis and an economic meltdown.

U.S. officials told Reuters the meeting does not mean Washington is moving to give recognition to the Taliban government. They said that would depend on whether the Taliban live up to their commitments to form an inclusive government, protect rights of women to work and allow girls to receive an education, among other issues.

Some information in this report came from Reuters news agency. 

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