Pompeo, Taliban announce plan to sign peace deal at the end of the month

Pompeo, Taliban announce plan to sign peace deal at the end of the month

The United States plans to sign a peace deal with the Taliban on Feb. 29 as long as a week-long reduction in violence across the country holds, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Taliban also released a statement confirming the plan to sign a peace deal that day.

The violence reduction, the decisive condition of the possible peace deal, is set to begin early Saturday — just after midnight, according to Afghanistan's National Security Council and a senior State Department official.

"U.S. negotiators in Doha have come to an understanding with the Taliban on a significant and nationwide reduction in violence across Afghanistan," Pompeo said in a statement Friday, referring to U.S.-Taliban talks in the Qatari capital.

"Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward. We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29."

The Taliban said "both parties will now create a suitable security situation in advance of agreement signing date, extend invitations to senior representatives of numerous countries and organizations to participate in the signing ceremony, make arrangements for the release of prisoners" and prepare for intra-Afghan negotiations, according to the group's statement released to the media Friday.

The U.S. military command in Kabul said it has nothing to announce at this time.

Javid Faisal, the Afghan National Security Council’s spokesman, told The Washington Post that “if things go according to the plan,” the reduction in violence will begin Saturday. The senior State Department official confirmed the date, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the violence-reduction plan.

The week-long reduction in violence will require the Taliban, the United States and Afghan government-aligned forces to largely cease all planned offensive operations nationwide. The period is not being called a cease-fire, and U.S. forces will continue to carry out counterterrorism operations against groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Should the violence reduction hold, American and Taliban negotiators will sign a peace dealby the end of the month. U.S. officials have warned that while both the Taliban and the Afghan government have given security guarantees, the potential remains for “spoilers” to upend the deal.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief U.S. negotiator, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects for peace, but described potential “spoilers” as groups both inside and outside Afghanistan that do not see a peace deal in their interest and would rather see the conflict continue. Khalilzad spoke at a United Nations conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, earlier this week.

After the signing of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, the Afghan government will launch its own round of talks with the Taliban. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that he will build a negotiating team that is inclusive, but following disputed election results announced this week, Afghan politics is deeply divided.

Ghani and his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, both declared victory after the results were announced. Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, declared the results illegal and announced he will begin setting up a parallel government. Should this political turmoil persist, it will further complicate the formation of a strong, inclusive team to negotiate with the Taliban.

Hudson reported from Istanbul. Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

By Susannah George and John Hudson