Taliban and Afghan government agree to accelerate peace talks after Moscow summit

The US, Russia, China and Pakistan call for immediate ceasefire in Afghanistan

Officials attend an international conference on Afghanistan over the peaceful solution to the conflict in Moscow on March 18, 2021. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Russian Foreign Ministry / handout" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
 / AFP / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / Handout / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Russian Foreign Ministry / handout" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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The Afghan government and the Taliban agreed on Friday to try to step up peace talks following an international conference in Moscow, a senior Afghan official said.

At the one-day conference on Thursday, the US, Russia, China and Pakistan called on Afghanistan's warring sides to agree to an immediate ceasefire.

The gathering in Russia was held six weeks before a deadline to withdraw US troops that was set last year.

"We expressed our readiness to accelerate the [peace] process," Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, told Russia's RIA news agency. "They [the Taliban] did as well."

Mr Abdullah said the sides had not discussed any specific issues when they met again in Moscow on Friday.

The Russian capital hosted the conference at which Russia, the US, China and Pakistan released a joint statement calling on the Afghan sides to reach a peace deal and curb violence. The Taliban should stand down from its spring and summer offensives, they said.

The conference aimed to reinvigorate negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar's capital Doha, largely stalled over government accusations that the insurgents failed to halt violence.

The Moscow conference was the first time the US sent a senior representative to talks on Afghanistan under a format launched by Russia in 2017.

Washington agreed last year with the Taliban to withdraw its troops by May 1 after nearly two decades, and is looking for support among regional powers for its plans for the peace process.

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