US, Russia to find ways to lift travel ban on Taliban leaders for peace talks


(Photo: CGTN)

The United States and Russia have agreed to explore options on securing travel waivers for Taliban negotiators in talks to end the war in Afghanistan, US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said ahead of a fresh round of peace talks scheduled on Monday.

Lifting the travel ban imposed over Taliban leaders by the United Nations has been one of the key demands of the hardline Islamic group that started negotiations with US officials in 2018 to end the 17-year war.

Khalilzad, head of the peace talks with the Taliban, discussed the issue of lifting the travel ban for Taliban leaders with his Russian counterpart Zamir Kabulov in Ankara on Friday.

"Amb (Ambassador) Kabulov and I also discussed travel barriers to talks. We will explore options for securing UN travel waivers for Taliban negotiators to participate in peace talks," he wrote on Twitter.

US officials familiar with discussions said lifting the travel ban on some Taliban leaders could pace up the ongoing negotiations.

The Afghan Taliban said it would resume negotiations on Monday with the United States in Qatar, insisting the meeting "will prove positive" despite propaganda against the peace process.

Last week, the talks between US negotiators and Taliban members in Islamabad were postponed, the Taliban said in a statement on February 17.

The statement said that the Taliban was prepared for the talks but most negotiators in the group could not attend the meeting as they are on the US and United Nations blacklist. 

This came after reports said that the Taliban would hold talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad. The group, however, did not mention the reports in the statement.

Earlier, Taliban officials and US negotiators agreed on a draft peace pact on January 26, setting out the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan within 18 months, potentially ending the longest war the US has ever been involved in.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also described the progress achieved with the Taliban as "encouraging news" on his Twitter page, adding that the US is serious about pursuing peace in Afghanistan and bringing the US forces home.