(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Marking a major milestone in the 12-year war, Taliban officials announced on Tuesday that they are prepared to sit down for direct peace talks with Afghan and U.S. officials over the future of Afghanistan.
The news comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced on Tuesday that Afghan security forces have taken over the security lead from the U.S.-led NATO coalition.
Taliban officials released a statement on Tuesday opposing the use of Afghan soil to threaten other countries, a critical step to breaking ties with al Qaeda, and supporting the Afghan peace process.
These statements fulfill the requirements for the Taliban to open a political office in Doha, Qatar, for the purpose of negotiating with the Afghan government.
“We welcome this. These statements represent an important first step towards reconciliation -- a process that, after 30 years of armed conflict in Afghanistan, will certainly promise to be complex, long and messy, but nonetheless, this is an important first step,” according to a senior Obama administration official.
While the U.S. will have its first direct talks with the Taliban in the coming days, administration officials stressed that the peace negotiating process must be Afghan-led.
“The core of this process is not going to be the U.S. Taliban talks -- those can help advance the process, but the core of it is going to be negotiations among Afghans, and the level of trust on both sides is extremely low, as one would expect. So it's going to be a long, hard process if indeed it advances significantly at all,” the official said.
In addition to encouraging the Taliban to sever ties with al Qaeda, detainee exchanges are also expected to be on the U.S-Taliban agenda, including the return of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Senior administration officials hailed Tuesday as a “milestone on the path toward peace” but also tried to temper expectations.
“We need to be realistic. This is a new development, a potentially significant development. But peace is not at hand,” an official said.
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