Taliban meet US officials in United Arab Emirates

Meeting also involves Saudi, Pakistani and Emirati representatives, Taliban spokesperson says.

    The Taliban held a meeting on Monday with American officials in the latest attempt to bring a negotiated end to Afghanistan's 17-year war.

    The meeting was held in the United Arab Emirates and involved Saudi, Pakistani, and Emirati representatives, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Twitter.

    A US State Department spokesperson said the meetings in Abu Dhabi are part of efforts to promote an intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

    "We have long said that the war in Afghanistan will only end when Afghans sit together with mutual respect and acceptance to discuss a political roadmap for their future," the spokesperson said.

    "Special Representative [Zalmay] 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."

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    Khalil Minawi, director of Afghanistan's state-run Bakhtar news agency, said officials from the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UAE held meetings on Sunday before "the Pakistani-sponsored US-Taliban meeting".

    While Afghan officials weren't expected to attend Monday's meeting, their presence in the UAE is a significant step in efforts to get the two sides talking.

    So far, the Taliban have refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, calling it a puppet of the US and insisting only on negotiating with American officials.

    Washington's envoy Khalilzad previously said he has held several meetings with all Afghans involved in the protracted conflict - a reference that would include the Taliban, which controls or holds sway of nearly half of Afghanistan.

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    A Taliban statement last month said it held three consecutive days of talks with Khalilzad in Qatar, where the armed group maintains a political presence.

    Afterwards, Khalilzad went to Kabul where he urged Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to cobble together a team that could hold talks with the Taliban with the intent of reaching an agreement on a "roadmap for the future of Afghanistan".

    Khalilzad said he would like to see this agreement reached before Afghan presidential elections, scheduled for April 20.

    Since his appointment in September, Khalilzad has tried to jumpstart peace talks and has made several tours of the region. Earlier this month, he held meetings in Islamabad. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan later said Khalilzad asked Pakistan to assist in getting the Taliban to the negotiating table.

    Khan said Pakistan would sponsor the UAE talks and insisted a military solution is not the answer.

    President Donald Trump has long accused Islamabad of taking billions of US dollars while doing nothing to aid peace efforts and has assailed Khan since his election as prime minister last summer. Washington has suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Pakistan.

    Khan, meanwhile, responded to Trump's rebukes by saying his country was drawn into the so-called "war on terror" although no Pakistanis were involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the war has cost Pakistan $123bn.

    Khan has also described the US contribution of $20bn to Pakistan as minuscule.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies