Afghanistan s President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday announced a 12-person team for prospective peace talks with the Taliban, as the UN renewed calls for direct negotiations between Kabul and the insurgents.
The Afghan government, Western diplomats and United Nations officials have in recent weeks raised hopes of finally reaching a deal to end the Taliban s 17-year fight.
At an international conference on Afghanistan in Geneva, Ghani said his government had "formed a 12-person negotiating team, comprised of both women and men, and led by presidential chief of staff (Abdul Salam) Rahimi".
Ghani also laid out four principles that he said must form the backbone of any agreement, including respect for Afghanistan s constitution and the rejection of interference in domestic affairs by foreign "terrorist" and criminal groups.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is believed to have held talks with the Taliban in Qatar earlier this month, had been pushing Ghani to announce a team for prospective talks.
Kabul has offered to meet face-to-face with the Taliban without preconditions, but the insurgents have not yet committed to direct negotiations.
In a message read to the conference from UN chief Antonio Guterres, deputy under-secretary general Rosemary A. DiCarlo said: "We may have a rare opportunity to move to direct peace talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban."
"We must not miss it."
Ghani said earlier this month it was "not a question of if, but when" an agreement would be reached with the Taliban, while Khalilzad even raised the possibility of a breakthrough before presidential elections in April.