KABUL -- The U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal with the Taliban has played down recent tensions with the Western-backed Kabul government, telling RFE/RL that he hopes 2019 will be the "year of peace."
In an interview in the Afghan capital on April 1, Zalmay Khalilzad said there was a "chance and readiness for peace."
Khalilzad has held several rounds of peace talks with the militant group in Qatar. But the Afghan government has complained it is being left out of the negotiations, with the Taliban refusing to deal with what they call a "U.S. puppet."
A rift between Kabul and Washington over the talks with the Taliban erupted into public view in March, when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's national-security adviser harshly criticized Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran U.S. diplomat.
Khalilzad said relations with Kabul remained "good" and he was doing his "best" to keep the government informed of progress in U.S.-Taliban negotiations.
"I have always told the president that he has my phone number, that I'm at his service, and I can address any questions or issues he has," Khalilzad told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in the interview.
Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani's national-security adviser, on March 14 accused the U.S. envoy of "delegitimizing" the government by excluding it from the negotiations, acting like a "viceroy," and harboring personal ambitions in Afghanistan.
Reports in the U.S. media said American officials have ended contacts with Mohib, who did not meet Khalilzad during his trip to Kabul on April 1.
The U.S. envoy met with Ghani, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, and key power brokers during his trip.
"I don't want to say anything about the issue with Mr. Mohib," said Khalilzad. "America has made its decision about this."
Khalilzad said it was "time" to end the nearly 18-year war.
"I hope this year will be the year for peace in Afghanistan," he said. "Afghans are tired of the war. So, too, is the world. The war has raged for a long time."
He added: "The Taliban says it cannot win the war and is ready for a political settlement. America says war is not the solution and a political solution is needed. And the [Afghan] government says the same thing. Eventually, there will have to be some give and takes so the sides can come to an agreement and end the war."
During a round of talks in Doha in January, U.S. and Taliban negotiators reached the basic framework of a potential peace deal in which the militants would prevent international terrorist groups from basing themselves in Afghanistan in exchange for a withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.
After a round of talks that ended in early March, Khalilzad said "real strides" were made on those two issues.
Less progress has been made on two other core issues -- a cease-fire in Afghanistan and an intra-Afghan dialogue that would include the Taliban and government representatives.
"The Taliban says the issue of a cease-fire will only be addressed when talks among Afghans begin," he said. "But we are hopeful that intra-Afghan talks will start as soon as possible and that we can agree to de-escalate the war."
Khalilzad said it would be ideal if a peace agreement could be clinched before Afghanistan's presidential election slated for September. But he said preparations should be made for holding the election in which Ghani is seeking re-election.
"It would be good if there was a [peace] agreement between the Taliban and Afghanistan before the election," he said. "And whatever [deal] is agreed among Afghans, including the government, should be applied."
Khalilzad's trip to Afghanistan came ahead of an expected new round of talks with the Taliban in Qatar's capital, Doha, reportedly due to begin in mid-April.
Before his Kabul trip, Khalilzad visited Britain and Belgium. He is expected to travel to Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Jordan before ending his trip in Qatar.
The State Department said that Khalilzad's March 25-April 10 trip was "part of the overall effort to facilitate a peace process that brings all Afghan parties together in inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations."
Despite being engaged in talks with the United States, the Taliban continues to stage major attacks on Afghan security forces.
At least 19 Afghan soldiers were killed in a series of Taliban attacks in the Badghis and Sar-e Pul provinces, officials said on April 1.
The militant group's military success has given them considerable leverage in political talks.