The US and Taliban are to likely sign a peace deal by the end of February 2020, Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi, a senior Taliban leader said in a video, shared with journalists.
He said that “both sides have initiated the final draft of the peace agreement. Now talks are concluded.”
“Both sides have agreed to sign the agreement by the end of this month” after making a “favorable environment before signing of the agreement,” Hanafi reportedly said.
In his first public comments since the peace talks breakthrough, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief negotiator with the Taliban, said he’s “cautiously optimistic.”
“But I am realistic enough to know that there are lots of challenges ahead,” he added.
He said that he had received agreement from both the Afghan government, and the Taliban, but nothing was set in stone.
“I believe that, maybe better than any time in the last couple of decades, there is an opportunity for peace,” he claimed.
Hanafi also mentioned talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but he said such a step would be taken only after a mass prisoner exchange.
“When the process of releasing of 5,000 [Taliban] prisoners . . . is completed, then intra-Afghan talks will begin,” he said.
The favorable environment is likely the 7-day reduction in violence that the US announced was agreed on February 13th.
When exactly the 7-day- reduction in violence will take place is unclear.
“We’ve said all along that the best, if not the only, solution in Afghanistan is a political agreement. Progress has been made on that front and we’ll have more to report on that soon, I hope,” US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters in Brussels on, dubbing his meetings with NATO colleagues “productive”.
Esper said if the process goes forward there would be continuous evaluation of any violence.
“It is our view that seven days, for now, is sufficient but in all things, our approach to this process will be conditions-based, I will say it again, conditions-based,” he said.
Trump also said that a peace agreement was “very close.”
“I think we’re very close,” Trump said on a podcast broadcast on iHeart Radio when asked if a tentative deal had been reached. “I think there’s a good chance that we’ll have a deal … We’re going to know over the next two weeks.”
Earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the talks had achieved “a pretty important breakthrough”.
Currently the situation in Afghanistan is relatively calm, with most recently an ISIS attack allegedly taking place against the Taliban.
Separately, two US soldiers were killed by a member of the Afghan Security Forces in what is presumed to be an insider attack.
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