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UN Envoy: Prospect For Peace In Afghanistan 'Has Never Been More Real'

Former Taliban militants are shown turning over their weapons during a reconciliation ceremony in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on September 3.

The United Nations envoy for Afghanistan says the prospect of negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan is closer than it has ever been.

The comments by Tadamichi Yamamoto on December 17 came as the Afghan Taliban said its representatives met with U.S. officials in the United Arab Emirates.

The preliminary talks were seen as an important step to launch formal peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Speaking at the UN Security Council, Yamamoto called on countries in the region "to contribute" in supporting the peace talks.

A negotiated peace "has never been more real...than it is now," he said

"The key next step would be for representatives of the government and the Taliban to meet, or at least to formally initiate what in mediation is referred to as talks about talks," he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid offered few details of the December 17 meeting except to say that "discussions were held with the American side over the end to the invasion of Afghanistan."

The Taliban has long refused to hold formal talks with the Afghan government, insisting on first brokering an agreement with the United States.

While Washington has neither denied nor confirmed previous meetings with the Taliban, U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has previously held at least two rounds of talks with Taliban officials.

The Taliban controls or contests nearly half of Afghanistan, where it is waging a deadly insurgency against the Western-backed Kabul government and government security forces.

The country has been at war on and off for more than 20 years.

Based on reporting by dpa and AP
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