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Afghan peace talk negotiators hold first direct session in Doha

FILE PHOTO: Taliban delegates shake hands during talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan and Taliban peace talk negotiators held their first direct session on Tuesday in Doha, their spokesmen said, as the warring sides try to work out an agenda and schedule for how to negotiate a peace deal as the United States withdraws troops.

“The meeting of both negotiating teams with full members took place today at 4:30 p.m.,” senior Afghan government negotiator Nader Nadery and Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naeem both said in identical statements on Twitter.

“Heads of delegations reiterated the need for patience and tolerance as we move forward in this path,” the statement added.

A small group of negotiators from both sides had met in previous days to try to discuss how the substantive negotiations would take place.

Negotiators had agreed to rules and procedures, according to the statement, without specifying what they were, but some issues were still outstanding. It was not clear whether the sides had agreed to an agenda of what issues needed to be covered and in what order.

An Afghan presidential palace official said a top priority was getting the Taliban to agree on a ceasefire or significant reduction in violence.

Violence has continued in the country even after the launch of historic peace talks at an opening ceremony in Doha on Saturday.

Talks between the two sides were to begin shortly after a U.S.-Taliban agreement in February, but started only after months of delays, caused in part by continuing Taliban offensives in the war-torn country as well as disagreement over the release of prisoners.

U.S. President Donald Trump has made ending the war in Afghanistan a key election promise and the United States is set to withdraw all its troops by May 2021, subject to the Taliban meeting certain security guarantees.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Additional reporting by Nayera Abdallah and Orooj Hakimi; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Sandra Maler, Michael Perry and Jonathan Oatis