ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - The Taliban has confirmed that it held direct talks with the United States in Qatar this week on finding a negotiated end to the 17-year war in Afghanistan.
A senior Taliban official told VOA on Friday that Alice Wells, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, led the American delegation in the meeting in Doha.
The insurgent official, speaking on condition of anonymity explained the "preliminary" dialogue focused merely on "laying the groundwork for future contacts and meetings" between the Taliban and the U.S.
"The overall atmosphere of the meeting was very good and the discussions were also productive," said the Taliban official,but he shared no further details.
Reports of Monday's landmark meeting in the Qatari capital appeared in American newspapers earlier this week but neither U.S. officials nor the Taliban directly commented on them until now.
No comment from U.S.
The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the reported meeting with the Afghan insurgency.
"The United States is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government," said a State Department official when asked for a reaction to reports of talks with the Taliban.
The official made it clear that the Afghan government was fully involved in the effort to jump-start peace talks. "Any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and Afghan government," said the State Department official.
The Afghan Taliban has been informally operating a political office in Doha for several years.
The Islamist insurgency had long called for direct talks with Washington. The Taliban insists the U.S., and not the Afghan government, has the authority to determine a timetable for all American and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.
An Afghan presidential spokesperson in Kabul while responding to the talks in Qatar said her government would welcome any step that would restore peace in the country.
Durranai Wazira emphasized, however, that foreigners are playing "a supportive role to facilitate the peace process but Afghans themselves will lead it."
First significant step
This week's Qatar talks marked the first significant step toward starting an Afghan peace and reconciliation process since a single round of talks was held between Afghan and Taliban officials in Pakistan in 2015, with U.S. and China also in attendance as observers.
U.S. officials are reported as saying Monday's engagement with the Taliban was aimed at building on momentum generated by last month's unprecedented temporary cease-fires the Afghan government and the Islamist insurgency observed during three-day Eid festivities last month.
The meeting in Doha came as the Afghan government is considering another unilateral cease-fire with the insurgents during the upcoming Eid festival in August to encourage the Taliban to come to the table for peace talks.