WSJ: US diplomats met face-to-face with Taliban last week

Discussion centered around peace talks

By KATE SULLIVAN, CNN
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Taliban fighters in Afghanistan

(CNN) - American diplomats met face-to-face with Taliban representatives in Qatar last week to discuss laying the groundwork for peace talks, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter.

The aim of the discussion was to build on momentum created by a recent three-day cease-fire, the newspaper reported.

The New York Times reported Saturday that US diplomats met with Taliban representatives in Qatar without Afghan government officials present, citing two senior Taliban officials.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Alice Wells, a top US envoy for South Asia, led the US delegation in talks with members of the Taliban's political commission.

The State Department did not confirm or deny the talks, which would be a reversal of a longstanding policy and strategy toward the Taliban in Afghanistan. The department has confirmed that Wells was in Doha, but did not say whether she held a face-to-face meeting with Taliban representatives.

"Any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and Afghan government," State Department spokeswoman Stephanie Newman told CNN.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also confirmed in a news briefing Tuesday that Wells went to Doha, saying only that she met with the country's deputy prime minister and other government officials to discuss their contributions to the situation in Afghanistan.

A spokesperson for the Taliban responded to CNN's request for comment by saying he did not have anything to share at this time.

The Taliban has long maintained an informal "political office" in Doha to restart the dormant peace process, according to the Times. The insurgents have always demanded negotiations with the US as a precondition to any peace talks while the American military is still in Afghanistan.

The Times reported earlier this month that the Trump administration urged its top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban to rekindle negotiations to end the war.

According to the Times, US officials insist such talks would not mean the abandonment the longstanding policy that any peace process would be "Afghan owned and Afghan led."

The Afghan president's office told the Times on Saturday that it welcomes any support for peace efforts.

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