US on face saving mission in Afghanistan

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US on face saving mission in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON - A meeting between a senior US diplomat and Taliban representatives in Doha last week to discuss a possible ceasefire ended with "very positive signals" and a decision to hold more meetings, people with knowledge of the talks said on Sunday.

The meeting between a delegation led by Alice Wells, deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and Taliban representatives was first reported in The Wall Street Journal but has not been officially confirmed.

According to one Taliban official, who said he was part of a four-member delegation, there were "very positive signals" from the meeting, which he said was conducted in a "friendly atmosphere" in a Doha hotel.

"You can't call it peace talks," he said. "These are a series of meetings for initiating formal and purposeful talks. We agreed to meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue."

He said the talks had been held without the presence of Afghan government officials at the insistence of the Taliban.

The move comes as the Afghan government and the United States have stepped up efforts to end the 17 year-war in Afghanistan following the unprecedented three-day truce during last month's Eid al-Fitr holiday.

The truce, which saw unarmed Taliban fighters mingling with soldiers on the streets of Kabul and other cities, offered the first concrete vision of a peace settlement since an earlier attempt at peace talks broke down in 2015.

Although the Taliban refused an offer by President Ashraf Ghani to extend the Eid ceasefire, behind-the-scenes contacts have continued and the government has said it is considering another ceasefire during next month's Eid-al Qurban holiday.

As hopes of possible formal negotiations have risen, the United States has agreed to participate directly in the talks, although it insists the process will remain under Afghan leadership.