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U.S., Russia, China, Pakistan Urge Taliban To Agree To Cease-Fire, Negotiations With Kabul

The U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad
The U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad

The United States, Russia, China, and Pakistan have called on the Taliban to immediately agree to a cease-fire and to direct negotiations with the Afghan government.

The four countries held talks in Beijing from July 11-12 amid U.S. and international efforts to end the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan.

According to a statement released by the U.S. State Department on July 12, the four countries "encouraged all parties to take steps to reduce violence leading to a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire that starts with intra-Afghan negotiations."

The countries also called for direct negotiations involving the Taliban, President Ashraf Ghani's government, and other Afghans to "produce a peace framework as soon as possible."

The statement came after the Taliban and an Afghan delegation, including some government officials, on July 9 agreed at talks in Qatar on a road map for a future political settlement in what was seen as a major step toward ending the war.

The Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with the Western-backed Kabul government, and the government officials who attended the Qatar talks did so in a personal capacity.

Pakistan’s inclusion in the Beijing talks was seen as important because of Islamabad's clout with the Taliban.

The United States and Afghanistan have long accused Pakistan of providing "safe havens" for the Taliban on its soil. Washington has cut financial and military aid to the country as a result.

“We agreed we will expand and ask more international partners to join w/ the start of negotiations,” U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who attended the talks, said on Twitter on July 12. “Very positive.”

Khalilzad has held eight rounds of peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, describing the latest round that ended on July 9 as the "most productive" ever.

In a prerecorded video statement, shown at a conference held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on July 11, Khalilzad said that "we have made substantial progress" on four key issues.

Those issues include the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, a permanent cease-fire, a Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for attacks in other countries, and an inter-Afghan dialogue that leads to a political settlement.

The veteran U.S. diplomat also denied that the United States was "cutting and running" from the war-torn country as it negotiates a peace agreement with the Taliban.

"We're not looking for a withdrawal agreement," he said. "We're looking for a peace agreement."