Mike Pompeo reports 'notable progress' in US-Taleban talks, says Afghan president

Taliban issue ultimatum to US on offer for brief ceasefire or talks will end

A Taliban source said that negotiators would meet again in Doha, while another Taliban official suggested the group was poised to reduce attacks.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said late on Tuesday that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has informed him that the "notable progress" made in the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.

The State Department declined to comment. President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said Tuesday that he is cautiously optimistic there could be a USA agreement with the Taliban over the next days or weeks, but that a withdrawal of American forces is not "imminent". "There will have to be reduction in violence and meaningful inter-Afghan talks".

According to Taliban sources privy to the peace talks in Doha, their top leadership had agreed to a ceasefire plan for a certain period of time with the United States in case the U.S. also declared a ceasefire and stopped all military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The president of the United States, Donald Trump, made the withdrawal of the 13,000 members of the USA service from Afghanistan an important foreign policy objective.

Pleading anonymity, he said the USA negotiation team was now seeking the final approval from President Trump for the ceasefire plan and subsequent peace agreement.

Afghans dwelling in a Pakistani refugee camp have been sceptical any deal may lead to actual peace, with one, 60-year-old Hazrat Hussain, warning {that a} USA withdrawal might see the nation plunge into civil conflict - because it did after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989. The deal would also trigger negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan officials. "We could even extend the ceasefire period if we noticed progress in the peace talks with the United States", said the Taliban leader.

A Taliban official says Taliban had agreed not to carry out attacks in major cities including Kabul and will not use vehicle bombs that usually cause civilian casualties.

The offer would apply to "all" military forces stationed in Afghanistan, including worldwide and local troops, he added.

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The NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg in a pre-ministerial meeting at Brussels urged the Taliban to show a real will and ability to deliver violence reduction in order to move towards a lasting peace solution in Afghanistan.

Shaheen tweeted this week that Qatari foreign minister joined a meeting between Mullah Baradar led team and the U.S. side headed by Khalilzad. Mr Ghani, Mr Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper will be in Germany this week for the annual Munich Security Conference, at which Afghanistan is also expected to be discussed.

A person familiar with the ongoing discussions told the Associated Press that the "reduction in violence" calls for the Taliban to refrain from conducting attacks for seven days, hopefully setting the stage for eventual all-Afghan negotiations to chart a road map for the political future of a post-war Afghanistan.

"The Secretary informed me about the Taliban's proposal with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence", he continued, adding in another tweet, "This is a welcoming development".

In return, the United States has agreed to reduce its own operations during the seven-day period, including airstrikes. They said the long-awaited peace agreement could be signed once President Trump approved the draft of the proposed peace deal. A suicide bomber targeting a military academy in the Afghan capital killed at least six people, including two civilians and four military personnel, the Interior Ministry said.

Both the Taliban and the government, however, appear to feel increasing pressure to move a peace arrangement forward after months of stalled USA -militant talks.

A former senior Afghan official with knowledge of the issue said on condition of anonymity that there had been "a compromise by all sides".

George reported from Islamabad.

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