After years of negotiations and rumors, the Taliban will open a political office in Doha today, kicking off long-stalled negotiations with the Afghan and American governments, Qatar's foreign minister announced in a joint press conference with a Taliban spokesman today.
Muhammad Naim, the Taliban spokesman, emphasized two points: That the Taliban opposed the use of Afghan soil to threaten other countries and that they support an Afghan peace process.
A senior Obama administration official talking to reporters on a conference call said the United States "welcomes" the move.
"We welcome this," the official said. "These statements represent an important first step towards reconciliation, a process that after 30 years of armed conflict in Afghanistan will certainly promise to be complex, long and messy but nonetheless this is an important first step."
Another administration official tried to temper expectations saying this is the "beginning of a difficult road."
The official said that most insurgencies end through a negotiated peace, but that there is "no guarantee that this will happen quickly if at all."
The officials said they hope the negotiations lead to three outcomes: First, the Taliban must break with al-Qaida, second they must stop the violence and third they must "accept Afghanistan's constitution, including protection for women and minorities."
The American official said that the statement from the Taliban is a "first step in distancing themselves from international terrorism."
When asked if the United States was sure that the office in Doha represented all of the Taliban, the administration official said they understand the office is sanctioned by Mullah Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader.
All of this comes, of course, on the same day that NATO officially handed off all control of Afghanistan to Afghan forces. We wrote about that in an earlier post.