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U.S., Taliban conclude talks after rival Afghans agree on road map

Reuters KABUL (Reuters) — The U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan wound up on Tuesday the seventh round of talks he has held with the Taliban in Qatar, after signs of progress in efforts to end the longest war the United States has ever fought.

The U.S. envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, met Taliban officials briefly a day after a delegation of Afghan citizens and the militants agreed on a “road map for peace,” in particular a joint call to end civilian casualties in the 18-year war.

“Khalilzad will now brief his bosses and they will make an announcement. The seventh round has ended,” said a senior official privy to the talks.

The United States and the Taliban are getting closer to a deal that is expected to be centered on a U.S. promise to withdraw troops in exchange for a Taliban promise not to let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism, officials say.

Last week, Khalilzad said the latest round of talks, which began on June 28, was the “most productive” since the effort began late last year, with progress on a counterterrorism assurance, a troop withdrawal, dialogue between rival Afghans and a ceasefire.

Khalilzad, in a post on Twitter, said he was heading to China then back to Washington “to report and consult on the Afghan peace process.” He did not elaborate.

Taliban officials were not immediately available for comment.

Senior Western officials and diplomats in Kabul who are privy to the talks said the U.S. government was expected to make an announcement after a briefing from Khalilzad.

“The stage is now being set for a political settlement between the U.S. and the Taliban,” said a senior Western official who is privy to the negotiations.

While a deal between the United States and the Taliban might let the United States extricate itself from a war U.S. President Donald Trump is eager to end, it might not bring peace between the U.S.-backed government based in Kabul and the militants.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government, denouncing it as a U.S. puppet, but in an effort to foster Afghan reconciliation, a 60-strong delegation of citizens met the Taliban for two days of talks in Qatar from Sunday.

The two sides said in a joint statement late on Monday they had agreed to a road map and were both “committed to respect and protect the dignity of people, their life and property and to minimize the civilian casualties to zero.”

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