By Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post

19 June 13

obamapointinghe Obama administration will start formal peace talks with the Taliban on Thursday in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, the first direct political contact between them since early last year and the initial step in what the administration hopes will lead to a negotiated end to the protracted war in Afghanistan.

Afghan government representatives are not expected to attend the meeting. But U.S. officials said the United States wants to eventually hand over the process to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his appointed peace council.

In a statement read live on television in Doha, the Qatari capital, a Taliban spokesman said that the militant group “never wants to pose harm to other countries from its soil” and that it was open to talking with other Afghans. Those pledges met U.S. conditions for opening a Taliban political office in Qatar.

President Obama called the agreement “a very early step,” describing it as a parallel process to “the transition that is taking place militarily in Afghanistan” as the U.S.-led international coalition hands over security control to the Afghan military and prepares to withdraw all combat troops by the end of next year.

“We anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road,” Obama said in remarks at the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland.

The U.S. delegation to the Taliban talks will be led by Douglas Lute, Obama’s chief adviser on Afghanistan, and James Dobbins, the State Department’s new special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive dialogue, expect the Taliban delegation to be led by Mohammed Tayeb al-Agha, a senior aide to Pakistan-based group leader Mohammad Omar, and representatives of the Taliban’s political council.

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