US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will Saturday meet negotiators from the Taliban and Afghan government amid signs of progress in their talks as the United States speeds up its withdrawal.
The State Department said late Friday that Pompeo will meet separately with the Afghan government and Taliban negotiation teams in the Gulf state of Qatar.
Pompeo will also see Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and the foreign minister on his stop in the capital Doha, the Taliban’s base for diplomacy, the State Department said on its public schedule.
The outgoing top US diplomat is on a seven-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East as President Donald Trump shores up late-term priorities.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it would soon pull some 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan, speeding up the timeline established in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban that envisions a full US withdrawal in mid-2021.
Trump has repeatedly vowed to end “forever wars,” including in Afghanistan, America’s longest-ever conflict that began with an invasion to dislodge the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
President-elect Joe Biden, in a rare point of agreement, also advocates winding down the Afghanistan war although analysts believe he will not be as wedded to a quick timetable.
The Taliban for the first time are speaking to Afghanistan’s government.
The talks started September 12 in Doha but almost immediately faltered over disagreements about the agenda, the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.
Several sources told AFP on Friday that the two sides appear to have resolved some of the issues, however.
Among the sticking points so far, the Taliban and the Afghan government have struggled to agree on common language on two main issues.
The Taliban, who are Sunni hardliners, are insisting on adherence to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, but government negotiators say this could be used to discriminate against Hazaras, who are predominantly Shiite, and other minorities.
Another contentious topic is how the US-Taliban deal will shape a future Afghan peace deal and how it will be referred to.
The Doha peace talks opened after the Taliban and Washington signed a deal in February, with the US agreeing to withdraw all foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees and a Taliban promise to start talks.
Despite the talks, violence has surged across Afghanistan, with the Taliban stepping up daily attacks against Afghan security forces.
Trump’s plan to slash troops by January 15 — less than a week before his successor Joe Biden is to be sworn in to office — has been criticized by Kabul residents who fear it will embolden the Taliban to unleash a new wave of fighting.
Afghan civilians have long borne the brunt of the bloodshed.
Officials in Kabul also worry it will harden the Taliban position at the negotiating table, where the future of hard-won gains including women’s rights are on the line.
Elon Musk now world’s second wealthiest person
Elon Musk, the charismatic chief of electric automaker Tesla, has overtaken Bill Gates to become the world's second richest person, according to the Bloomberg list of billionaires.
The South African-born Musk, 49, added $7.2 billion in wealth on Monday alone following Tesla's latest surge. He now has an estimated $128 billion.
The outspoken Musk, who is also cofounder of SpaceX, had already overtaken numerous luminaries in recent weeks, including Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Bernard Arnault, the head of French luxury giant LVMH.
Now the only person he stands behind is Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, whose wealth is estimated at $182 billion.
Friend says Khashoggi ‘threatened’ by Saudi official before death
A close friend of Jamal Khashoggi told a Turkish court on Tuesday that the slain Saudi journalist felt threatened by people close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The main court in Istanbul held a second hearing in the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects in the Washington Post columnist's high-profile murder -- including two former aides to the powerful Saudi crown prince.
The 59-year-old was suffocated and dismembered inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate on October 2, 2018 after going inside to get documents for his marriage to Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz.
The murder sparked an international outcry and tarnished the reputation of the oil-rich kingdom and the crown prince.
Charles Darwin notebooks ‘stolen’ from Cambridge University
Two of Charles Darwin's notebooks containing his pioneering ideas on evolution and his famous "Tree of Life" sketch are missing, believed stolen, the Cambridge University Library said on Tuesday.
The British scientist filled the leather notebooks in 1837 after returning from his voyage on the HMS Beagle. The library said they were worth millions of pounds.
In one book, he drew a diagram showing several possibilities for the evolution of a species and later published a more developed illustration in his 1859 book "On the Origin of Species".
The University of Cambridge's vast library first listed the notebooks as missing in 2001 after they were moved out of the Special Collections Strong Rooms for photography to be carried out there.