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story.lead_photo.caption In this photo released by the Pakistan Foreign Office, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, left, meets with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Qureshi said Tuesday that "progress has been made" at ongoing peace talks in Qatar between the Taliban and the U.S. that have stretched over two weeks. (Pakistan Foreign Office, via AP)

DOHA, Qatar -- The longest peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban to end America's war in Afghanistan concluded Tuesday night in Qatar, with both sides saying progress had been made.

The nearly two weeks of talks produced two draft agreements between the militants and the U.S. government on a "withdrawal timeline and effective counterterrorism measures," American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wrote on Twitter.

The diplomat said he'd go to Washington and meet with other concerned parties, likely including the Afghan government, which did not take part in the 13 days of face-to-face talks in Doha, the Qatari capital.

"The conditions for #peace have improved," Khalilzad wrote. "It's clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides."

The Taliban issued their own statement, similarly saying "progress was achieved" on both of those issues. It stressed that no cease-fire deal had been reached, nor any agreement for it to speak to the Afghan government.

"For now, both sides will deliberate over the achieved progress, share it with their respective leaderships and prepare for the upcoming meeting, the date of which shall be set by both negotiation teams," the statement read.

It wasn't immediately clear when the next round of talks would begin.

A Taliban official at the talks, who earlier spoke on condition of anonymity because he was unauthorized to reveal details of the negotiations publicly, said the main sticking point remained when U.S. forces would withdraw. The Taliban want a withdrawal within three to five months, while the U.S. is saying it will take 18 months to two years, he said.

Another sticking point would be a demand from America that the Taliban guarantee Afghanistan would never again host militants that would launch an attack against it. The Taliban have said it can agree to a general promise, but remains unwilling to identify specific groups in its pledge.

Osama bin Laden's successor in al-Qaida, Ayman al Zawahri, is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. Scores of other militants from Arab countries, including Yemen and Saudi Arabia, are also believed to be living in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, who refuse to talk with the government in Kabul and describe it as a U.S. puppet, have long demanded direct talks with the U.S. but until Khalilzad's appointment last September, Washington had shied away from opening face-to-face negotiations.

The Taliban, which had harbored al-Qaida and its leader, bin Laden, ruled Afghanistan before U.S. forces invaded in October 2001, after the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban have made a major comeback in recent years, and today carry out near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces. That has made a peace process even more pressing, and President Donald Trump has expressed frustration at the protracted conflict.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan has helped push the peace talks, which in turn has helped Islamabad's long-troubled relationship with Washington.

Trump has repeatedly accused Pakistan of failing to crack down on Islamic militants operating in its border regions, saying it had harbored bin Laden for years despite getting billions of dollars in American aid. Trump later reached out to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for help in the Taliban talks.

Information for this article was contributed by Munir Ahmed and Jon Gambrell of The Associated Press.

A Section on 03/13/2019

Print Headline: Peace dialogue by U.S., Taliban called promising


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