Afghanistan peace negotiations delayed until January 5, says US

Warring sides will take a break to 'consult on agenda items'

epa08863612 A handout photo made available by the Afghan President's office shows Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (L), head of the High Council of National Reconciliation (HCNR) sitting with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani (R), during a meeting of HCNR in Kabul, Afghanistan, 05 December 2020. The Afghan government and Taliban negotiators announced on 02 December, that they have reached a deal to move forward with bilateral peace talks, a major breakthrough after months of negotiations in Doha.The agreement allows the negotiators to work on the agenda and rules for talks and take critical issues up for discussions.  EPA/AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE HANDOUT HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
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Afghanistan's warring sides have decided to pause peace negotiations until January 5, the US representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said on Monday.

The Afghan government and the Taliban have been engaged in direct talks since September in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban have their political office.

“The two Afghan negotiating teams announced in Doha they will take 20 days off to ‘consult on the agenda items’,” Mr Khalilzad said.

A government delegation team is expected to return to the capital, Kabul, this week to consult senior officials.

Negotiations have been bogged down by disputes over the agenda, the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations since they started several months ago.

"Tragically, the war continues. The need for a political settlement, reduction in violence, and a ceasefire remain urgent," Mr Khalilzad said.

He urged both sides to ensure that there would be no further delays in resuming the talks.

"Given how much is at stake, it is imperative that there are no delays in resumption of talks and they must resume on January 5 as agreed," he said.

An Afghan representative, Nader Nadery, said both sides "shared initial lists of agenda items and conducted preliminary discussions on the list."

"Since the agenda items need further consultations, the two sides agreed for a recess and to resume the second round of talks on January 5, 2021," he said on Twitter.

It remains uncertain whether the talks will resume in Doha or in another country.

Earlier this month National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib said the next rounds of the peace negotiations should be conducted in Afghanistan.

The Afghan official said the government will not have any issues with a potential venue chosen by the Taliban.

Mr Mohib said the government is ready to hold talks with the Taliban in any part of the country.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Monday that the second round of talks should be held in Afghanistan.

“The Taliban is claiming that they are on Afghan soil so why aren’t they holding talks on Afghan soil?” Mr Ghani said during a cabinet meeting.

“Afghans can negotiate under a tent, too, and in cold weather. This is not the time for luxury hotels to be considered as preconditions. It is necessary that all the people should see how the talks are moving forward, what are the areas of focus, and why,” he said.

Both sides said earlier this month that they were ready to proceed following diplomatic efforts that saw outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visit the two teams.

They have been engaging directly for the first time following a troop withdrawal deal signed in February by the insurgents and Washington.

The US agreed to withdraw all foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees and a Taliban pledge to hold talks with Kabul.