U.S. officials say the Taliban has agreed to begin long-stalled negotiations with the Afghan and American governments at the group's new political office in Doha, Qatar.
The talks with the U.S. could begin in days, NPR's Scott Horsley tells our Newscast unit. He says the milestone agreement comes after months of "diplomatic spadework."
Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naim announced the opening of the Doha office during a joint news conference Tuesday with Qatar's foreign minister. Naim emphasized two points: that the Taliban oppose the use of Afghan soil to threaten other countries and that they support an Afghan peace process.
A senior Obama administration official talking to reporters on a conference call said the United States welcomes the move.
"These statements represent an important first step toward reconciliation, a process that after 30 years of armed conflict in Afghanistan will certainly promise to be complex, long and messy but nonetheless this is an important first step," the official said.
Another administration official tried to temper expectations, saying this is the "beginning of a difficult road," adding that most insurgencies end through a negotiated peace, but that there is "no guarantee that this will happen quickly if at all."
The U.S. officials said they hope the negotiations lead to three outcomes: First, the Taliban must break with al-Qaida, second they must stop the violence and third they must "accept Afghanistan's constitution, including protection for women and minorities."
One official said the statement from the Taliban also is a "first step in distancing themselves from international terrorism."
When asked whether the United States was sure that the office in Doha represented all of the Taliban, the administration official said they understand the office is sanctioned by Mullah Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader.
All of this comes, of course, on the same day that NATO officially handed off all control of Afghanistan to Afghan forces. We wrote about that in an earlier post.