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Afghan Taliban, U.S. Officials Meet In U.A.E. As Peace Efforts Intensify

U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has previously said he held several meetings with all Afghans involved in the conflict -- a reference that would include the Taliban. (file photo)

The Afghan Taliban says its representatives have met with U.S. officials in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) as efforts intensify to negotiate an end to Afghanistan's 17-year war.

The preliminary talks on December 17 were seen as an important step to launch formal peace negotiations with the Taliban.

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.

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

Mujahid said the talks also involved the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan -- three countries that have significant influence over the Taliban.

Taliban representatives would not meet with Afghan government representatives who are in the U.A.E., the spokesman also said.

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

Mujahid said the meetings in the U.A.E. would continue, indicating they could last for several days.

National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib was among the Afghan government representatives in the U.A.E.

The presence of such a high-ranking official was seen as a sign of progress.

Also significant was the presence of officials from Saudi Arabia and U.A.E., who have the influence to help secure concessions from the Taliban.

In a statement last month, the Taliban said it held three consecutive days of talks with Khalilzad in Qatar, where the militant group maintains an informal political office.

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 move 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 Qatar, 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 with 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.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa