The Afghan Taliban said Tuesday it has reached a preliminary agreement to open a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar, in a move that could help facilitate peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan.
The announcement came in an e-mailed statement from Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, who also said the group is asking for the release of prisoners held at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba as part of a peace deal.
Members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council welcomed the Taliban announcement Tuesday. Afghan officials originally had resisted the idea of a Taliban liaison office in Qatar, and the September assassination of President Hamid Karzai's peace envoy, former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, appeared to seriously set back efforts to reach a peace deal.
But President Karzai later said his government would accept the liaison office. In December, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the Afghan Taliban is not an enemy of America and does not represent a threat to the United States as long as it does not harbor al-Qaida terrorists.
Media reports have quoted U.S. officials as saying that Washington is open to negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban, and that a possible deal could include the transfer of Taliban prisoners.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann tells says Qatar represents a neutral place for the sides to meet, as it does not have the close traditional ties with Washington that Saudi Arabia and Turkey do. Both of those countries had been named as the possible site for the Taliban liaison office.
U.S.-led forces ousted Afghanistan's Taliban government following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Al-Qaida was responsible for the attacks and had training camps in Afghanistan.
The news follows months of failed efforts by Afghan and U.S. officials at starting talks with the Taliban to end the 10-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.