US envoy 'cautiously optimistic' for Afghan peace deal


KABUL -- Zalmay Khalilzad, the newly appointed US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, told Afghan media Sunday (November 18) that he hoped the Taliban and Afghan government would strike a peace deal within five months and ahead of the April 2019 presidential election.

Khalilzad, who returned to Kabul after the second round of regional meetings that are believed to have included members of the Taliban Political Commission in Doha, Qatar, said he remained "cautiously optimistic" for an end to the conflict.

"I hope that the Taliban and other Afghans would use the [presidential] election as a deadline to achieve a peace agreement before then -- that would be my hope."

"The Taliban are saying that they don't believe that they can succeed militarily ... I think there's an opportunity for reconciliation and peace."

His appointment in September to spearhead American efforts to persuade the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government was followed weeks later by a meeting with the group's representatives in Doha.

Khalilzad, who previously served as the US ambassador to Afghanistan, said he recognised the "complexity" of the Afghan conflict but insisted: "I would like to make as much progress as possible as soon as possible."

He called for the selection of negotiating teams to enable talks between the militants and Kabul to start.

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