The U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, says he had "productive" meetings in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) this week as part of efforts to encourage negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul to end the 17-year war in the South-Asian country.
There were no breakthroughs during the three-day U.S.-brokered talks in Abu Dhabi that ended on December 19, but the discussions were seen as an important step to launch formal peace negotiations with the militant group.
"Had productive meetings in the U.A.E. with Afghan and international partners to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict in Afghanistan," tweeted Khalilzad.
Khalilzad met Pakistan's army chief during a brief visit to Islamabad on December 19 before flying to Kabul.
A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said Khalilzad would update Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah "on his engagements with regional partners and other interested parties to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan."
The U.A.E. struck a positive tone, with the state-run WAM news agency saying that what it described as "U.S.-Taliban reconciliation talks" produced "tangible results that are positive for all parties concerned."
WAM added that a new round of talks would be held in Abu Dhabi without providing further details.
U.S. officials have not disclosed what was discussed during the talks in Abu Dhabi, which were attended by officials from Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Pakistan, three countries with significant influence over the Taliban.
But a Taliban statement said the discussions focused on the withdrawal of foreign troops, a core demand of the militant group, as well as the release of Taliban prisoners.
Washington insists that any peace settlement must be agreed between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but the militants have so far refused to talk directly with Kabul, insisting on first brokering an agreement with the United States.
While Washington did not confirm direct meetings between Khalilzad and the Taliban, Khalilzad has previously held at least two rounds of talks with Taliban officials in recent months.
Khalilzad has said he would like to see a "road map" agreement reached before the Afghan presidential election scheduled for next April.
The decision to change the venue of the talks from Qatar to the U.A.E. was seen as an effort to involve Saudi Arabia, which is hostile to Doha, more closely in the process and to exert influence on its ally, Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Pakistan were the only three countries to recognize the Taliban government during its five-year rule, which ended following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
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.