U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Doha, Qatar on Friday to attend the opening ceremony of the intra-Afghan talks.
“It’s taken us longer than I wish that it had to get from February 29 to here but we expect Saturday morning … to have the Afghans sitting at the table together prepared to have what will be contentious discussions about how to move their country forward,” Pompeo said to reporters on board the flight.
“[It’s] truly historic.”
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said in a press briefing on Friday, that he hoped talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban would pave the way for a peace process and withdrawal of foreign troops, but many challenges remained.
“For the first time in 40 years… hopefully come to an agreement on a political roadmap to end the protracted war that Afghanistan has had,” Khalilzad stated, telling journalists that the negotiations would be a “test for both sides.”
After months of discussions, the Taliban on Thursday announced that they were willing to begin peace talks with the government of Afghanistan on Sep. 12.
Khalilzad said, “The future of Afghanistan is obviously up to the Afghans to decide, but we [the U.S.] would like to see an Afghanistan that’s sovereign, that is unified, that’s democratic.”
Adding that the U.S. would continue to monitor and engage with both sides, the special envoy said, “This is a new phase in diplomacy for peace in Afghanistan. Now we are entering a process that is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. There will be no mediator and no facilitator when Afghans meet with each other. They will be talking to each other.”
“These negotiations are an important achievement, but there are… significant challenges on the way to reaching an agreement,” he added.
Negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government are set to kick off in Qatar today.