Afghan peace talks start in Doha

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Afghanistan and Taliban peace talks negotiators held a first direct session on Tuesday in Doha as the warring sides try to work out an agenda and schedule to negotiate a peace deal while the US withdraws troops.

“The meeting of both negotiating teams with all members took place,” senior Afghan government negotiator Nader Nadery and Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naeem said in identical Twitter statements.

“Heads of delegations reiterated the need for patience and tolerance as we move forward in this path,” the statement added.

A small group of negotiators from both sides met previously to discuss how the substantive negotiations would take place.

Negotiators agreed to rules and procedures, according to the statement, without specifying what they were, but some issues are outstanding. It was not clear whether the sides agreed to an agenda of issues to be covered and in what order.

An Afghan presidential palace official said a top priority was having the Taliban to agree on a ceasefire or significant reduction in violence.

Violence continued in the country even after the launch of peace talks in Doha on Saturday.

Talks between the two sides were to begin after a US-Taliban agreement in February, but started after months of delays, caused in part by continuing Taliban offensives in the war-torn country as well as disagreement over release of prisoners.

US President Donald Trump made ending the war in Afghanistan a key election promise and the country is set to withdraw its troops by May 2021 subject to the Taliban meeting security guarantees.