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US, Taliban Seem Close to Deal but Challenges Remain

FILE - U.S. and Taliban officials conferring in an undisclosed place in Doha, Feb. 25, 2019.

Updated Aug. 3, 2019, 12:45 p.m.

The United States and the Taliban have officially started their eighth round of negotiations in Doha with both sides indicating this round may result in a deal to end the longest U.S. war in history.

“The Taliban are signaling it would like to conclude an agreement. We are ready for a good agreement,” tweeted Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief U.S. negotiator.

There seem to be misunderstandings, however, about the content of the agreement by both the U.S. and the Taliban.

The Taliban seem to view it as an agreement to withdraw foreign troops, particularly U.S. forces, from Afghanistan. In return, they promise to ensure Afghan soil is not used for terrorism against any other country.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted in the Pashto language Saturday that "the dialogue with U.S. interlocutors will continue for a few days. If an agreement is reached with the Americans, then all foreign troops will withdraw from Afghanistan under a specified timeline, paving the way for inter-Afghan negotiations."

Khalilzad views the deal differently.

“We are pursuing a #peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement. Our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based, and any withdrawal will be conditions-based,” he tweeted before the start of the eighth-round of talks.

That Tweet and the use of the words “conditions-based,” has irked the militant group, sources close to the Taliban say.

According to a recent Washington Post report, American officials seemed to think the militant group had agreed. But Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban’s negotiation team, denied that.

“Cease-fire is an issue to be discussed among Afghans during intra-Afghan negotiations,” Shaheen reiterated Saturday after meeting the Americans Saturday on their first day of talks in this round.

The session broke up after only a couple of hours but both sides said talks would resume Sunday.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said 1,500 civilians were killed and injured in July, the highest civilian casualty figure this year.