US, Taliban close to signing agreement

Washington: President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said Tuesday he is cautiously optimistic that there could be a US agreement with the Taliban over the next days or weeks, but a withdrawal of American forces is not ”imminent.”

Robert O’Brien was asked whether Trump would sign off on an agreement where both the Taliban and US forces would pledge to adhere to a “reduction in violence” — a move that could lead to all-Afghan negotiations to end the decades-long conflict and outline a political future for the country.

The agreement would call for the Taliban and US forces to refrain from conducting attacks or combat operations for seven days, according to a person familiar with the ongoing discussions who was not authorized to discuss the proposed agreement and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

”I think that we’re making significant progress,” O’Brien said at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington.

”It’s something we’re keeping the president appraised of on a very regular basis. You hate to make predictions when it comes to Afghanistan … but I’ll say that we’re cautiously optimistic that some good news could be forthcoming on that front.”

If a reduction in violence holds, the US and Taliban would be expected to sign an agreement to begin talks within 10 days involving the Taliban and Afghans from across the nation, including some who hold government positions but don’t represent the government, the person familiar with the negotiations said.

”The President had made it very clear that there will have to be a reduction in violence and there will have to be meaningful intra-Afghan talks for things to move forward,” O’Brien said.

”If both those things and a number of other conditions are met and we are able to get agreement on them, I think we could have some good news coming out of Afghanistan — so we’ll have to wait and see over the next several days and weeks.”

The other conditions include the Taliban pledging not to associate with al-Qaida, the Islamic State or other malign organizations, he said.