The United States and the Afghan Taliban have drafted the framework of a deal which could pave the way for peace talks with Kabul, Washington’s main negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad told the New York Times.
However, major hurdles including a ceasefire and a withdrawal of foreign forces remain.
The comments by Khalilzad are the clearest signal yet from a US official that talks between Washington and the militants are progressing, igniting hopes of a breakthrough in the grinding 17-year conflict.
Khalilzad has been leading a months-long diplomatic push to convince the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government, but the militants have steadfastly refused, dismissing authorities in Kabul as “puppets”.
The flurry of activity culminated in an unprecedented six straight days of talks in Qatar last week, with both the US and the Taliban citing progress over the weekend.
“We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement,” Khalilzad, who arrived in Kabul on Sunday to update Afghan authorities on the talks, was quoted as saying by the Times.
He told Afghan media that Washington and the insurgents had “agreed to agreements in principle on a couple of very important issues”, and said Afghans must “seize the opportunity”, according to comments released by the US embassy in Kabul.
Experts quickly hailed the development as a milestone, noting it indicated willingness on both sides to find a way out of the conflict.
Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan described the talks as “encouraging”.
However, there is still no accord on a timetable for a US withdrawal or a ceasefire — major issues on which previous attempts at negotiations have foundered.
On Saturday Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that without a withdrawal timetable, progress on other issues is “impossible”.
Recently, Taliban has appointed a co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as the leader of their political office in Qatar to lead talks with the United States.